I hope Tiger baseball fans are finally happy
OK, Los Lunas High baseball parents. I hope your children can perform well under pressure; you certainly have created enough of it for them. We shall find out in 2013.
Robert Riggins’ resignation was accepted this week, about a month after he was recently relieved of his duties as coach, marking the fifth time in the past 10 years the Tigers have changed coaches. Other programs in the county have had high turnover, with coaches not even lasting a full season, but no other head coaching position has had to endure the same type of ferocious opposition from parents.
Riggins was removed, ostensibly, because he bumped an umpire during a heated moment after the last out of the Tigers’ 1-0 loss at Valencia on April 11. From my vantage point, Riggins clearly blocked the path of the umpire as he tried to leave the field, and did this three times, and I suppose he could have made contact with the umpire.
But even if he would have deliberately shoved or grabbed the umpire, he still would typically receive a one-game suspension. Riggins’ one-game suspension last season for over-using a pitcher certainly could be seen as a precedent, with the April 11 incident more of a last straw, but I think Los Lunas Schools might have rallied around a more popular coach.
If Tiger baseball ever wants to get to the top echelon of Class 4A baseball, and stay there, the parents simply have to give the coaches more patience and room to develop their players.
This happens with the Tigers year after year, coach after coach. The Tigers have had some rough years here and there, and no matter their record, parents have been in the coach’s face ad infinitum.
I have never coached baseball, so I frequently find the tactics, practice routines and game management tactics of New Mexico skippers to be increasingly similar and mystical. From Steve Contreras to Raymond Valerio to Andrew Saiz to James Doyle and with Riggins, the anonymous complaints I’ve received about him have been very similar regarding each one.
I don’t know much more about how to assess Riggins’ coaching ability than I would in his ability to build nuclear weapons safely. I have no expertise in either baseball or nuclear weapons. But I understand the basic rules of the game, and I understand he made the most of talent, and a drop down to Class 4A, in terms of helping the Tigers become a winning team again.
Yet somehow, Riggins fell out of favor with the Tiger faithful early on in his tenure, and I never completely figured out why. I know he wasn’t the district’s first choice — Socorro coach Alan Edmondson turned down an offer when a teaching position couldn’t be found locally for his wife. So Riggins, a Clovis native, was brought in to make his high school head coaching debut at age 22.
It might seem being from another part of the state, where a hearty baseball tradition exists and coaches might have more liberty to be harsh with their players, worked against Riggins. But in talking to former Tiger coaches and former team parents, there seems to be just about as much contempt for them and their methods as there is for Riggins.
A coach’s ability is only part of the equation. Another part is trust, where parents let go and allow coaches the freedom to make mistakes and learn how to use talent. If 39 victories in two-plus seasons doesn’t help him establish credibility, what would?
The removal of Riggins adds unnecessary pressure to the Tigers. If the team, especially the Class of 2013, is truly as talented as its potential shows, the squad is expected to not only do well in the state playoffs despite a mid-season coaching change, but also to ignore the distractions and the off-the-field drama as well.
It’s perhaps the most over-coached baseball team of all time, with at least 25 men riding the bandwagon by bragging to me of how they coached at least a few of the players at one time in youth baseball. Hopefully, these men will put their egos aside and let the next coach do his job without interference — even if the choice isn’t popular with the players’ dads.
Let’s hope the culture of attacking the coach doesn’t trickle down to the next generation of Tiger players, parents and fans.
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