Cubs’ baseball instructor ‘pitches’ fundamentals
Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 9:04 pm
Consider the source.
That’s what the Union City High School baseball players, youth leagues and stragglers should do after hearing the advice of Chicago Cubs’ minor league pitching coordinator Mark Riggins in the multi-purpose room.
And in baseball circles, Riggins, a 31-year veteran of the game at the professional level and the St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching coach in 1995 under Joe Torre, is a pretty good one.
“It was reassuring to know that a lot of the things we are teaching lined up with what he said,” UC head coach Jeremy Maddox said. “Just working with our kids today, they were throwing better than they had and the things he was saying were applicable to every pitcher and not just, say, the speed guys.”
Maddox, whose Union City team has also heard from New York Yankees’ great Tommy John and current Milwaukee Brewers’ third baseman Casey McGehee in the past four months, pointed out that Riggins’ background and rural Indiana roots should serve as proof the current Tornado players can make it, too.
“Here’s a guy that came from a community much smaller than ours and look at what he has been able to do,” Maddox said. “He’s been able to make a name for himself in the baseball world. It’s hard to get a foot in the door and even harder to keep in the game.
“The fact that he’s been able to stay there speaks highly of his knowledge of the game.”
Riggins, who hails from Loogootee, Ind., (population 2,741) and played on the high school hardwood against Larry Bird, spoke about pitching mechanics and his experience within the game during a stop in Union City Monday.
Riggins, a Murray State product and resident, has compiled quite the resumé in baseball after signing with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 1979.
He played five years in the St. Louis minor league system (1979-83), making it all the way to the Triple-A level, before he retired from active competition.
After his playing days were over, Riggins was hired as a pitching coach by the Cardinals to serve at various levels until the mid-1990s.
“The Lord was looking out for me,” Riggins told the audience Monday. “Here I was almost ready to go to work with the degree I had gotten and I get a call from the Cardinals asking me to coach.
“I can honestly say I haven’t worked a day in my life. This has been fun to me.”
In 1995, he got the call to the show, hired as the team’s major league pitching coach, sitting beside future Yankees’ manager and then-St. Louis skipper Joe Torre on the bench.
“That’s where you want to be whether you’re a player or a coach,” Riggins said. “The best players in the world are there and the atmosphere is exciting every day.
“I’d like to make it back there someday.”
After Tony LaRussa was hired as the Cardinals’ manager prior to the 1996 campaign, Riggins got the call to be the minor league pitching coordinator for the team — a position he held until 2007.
He has been the Cubs’ top minor league pitching instructor since ’08.
In his current role, Riggins travels with each of Chicago’s minor league teams during the season, staying for five days at each stop and making all the decisions about which pitchers move up a level and which get sent down.
Riggins also instructs during spring training and he is responsible for some of the roster cuts among pitchers at the minor league level.
“That’s the hardest thing I have to do,” Riggins said. “I have to look a player in the eye and tell them we don’t have a job for them.”
Altogether, Riggins estimated he’ll be in charge of 125 minor league pitchers and eight pitching coaches when hurlers report to training camp on Feb. 16.
For a man who stood at just 5-foot-10 and weighed in at 180 pounds during his playing days, it’s not too shabby an assignment. And Riggins isn’t hesitant to use his own story as an example for players of all shapes and sizes.
“Baseball is a game that everyone can play,” Riggins said. “In basketball you’ve got to be tall. In football, you need to be bulked up. Baseball has all types. There’s fast guys, slow guys, guys that hit home runs and guys that hit singles.
“Anybody can play and the great thing is the heart and desire that you put in determines what you get out of it. I’m one of the luckiest guys on earth because I never thought I’d be teaching baseball for a living.”
Sports Reporter Ken-neth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 2.9.10