What Washington Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman Thinks About When He Thinks About Running

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009

One morning last week, just hours after another of his team's recent losses, Jim Riggleman began his day same as always: coffee, newspaper. Riggleman is a baseball man, his life set to its daily patterns, but he also likes constancy, and right now his job provides precious little of it. So Riggleman uses his mornings to compensate.

In Chicago, back in town as the interim manager of the Washington Nationals, Riggleman opened the curtains of his hotel room overlooking Michigan Avenue and glanced outside. It was misting. Some cars used their wipers; some didn't. Riggleman thought for a moment, debating as you do when you already know the answer, and concluded the rain wouldn't bother him.

Same as every morning, he laced up his running shoes.

Riggleman is a runner, and his reliance on it -- as a way to stay in shape; as a way to see the world; as a way to keep moving forward, no matter the previous night's result -- lends a telling clue about the consistency and energy his Nationals players appreciate. Riggleman is 57 years old. Almost every day for 29 years, he's done the same thing. "Generally I wake up saying, 'I'm not gonna go today,' " Riggleman said. "And then after being up for 45 minutes I say, 'Oh, what the heck, I'll run.' So I usually talk myself into doing it."

As a minor league player, Riggleman ran through the hottest cities in the Texas League -- Shreveport, La., and Little Rock. As manager of the Cubs in the late '90s, he ran along Lake Michigan, following the flat trails and sometimes encountering hecklers. ("I would get a few catcalls now and then when we were losing," he said. " 'You're a bum, Riggleman!' ") Riggleman has run the hills in San Francisco, the parks in St. Louis, the beaches of San Diego. He's been everywhere, all because of baseball. He likes Central Park in New York City. He avoids treadmills. Earlier this year, when the Nationals visited Houston, Riggleman toughed out five or six miles every morning in the 100-degree heat.

"He must have a deal with the devil, being in such good shape," relief pitcher Ron Villone said. "I hope I look half that good when I'm his age."

On this particular morning, Riggleman, wearing mesh shorts and a gray T-shirt, exited the hotel and buried his room card key underneath a potted plant. He had neither an iPod nor a watch; he doesn't care much about pace, and he doesn't want music to interfere with his thinking. Same as he once did when he lived here, Riggleman headed down Michigan Avenue, then cut toward the lake.

"This is the path I used to always take," Riggleman said while running.

In a way, movement has typified his career. Washington is the fourth city in which he's managed, and for now, he is the interim skipper, nothing more. General Manager Mike Rizzo has promised a full search for the full-time manager at season's end. Riggleman will be a candidate.

His team's latest losing skid -- the Nationals finished their three-city road trip with a six-game losing streak -- undercuts the progress of the post-all-star-break turnaround. Still, those who've watched Riggleman manage appreciate a different sort of movement: He is frenetic, eating his cereal while walking through the hallways, always thinking of the next thing to do. He walks into his clubhouse after every game, if only to deliver a few words. He hits grounders during early infield practice. He never just sits back and watches.

"I think the biggest thing he's done since he's been the manager is just telling people when they mess up," Ryan Zimmerman said. "Not being afraid to -- well, not calling people out, but he tells the truth. If somebody makes a mistake, he tells you. I think with a young team like we have you have to do that sometimes."

As a player, Riggleman always trained hard, running in the offseason. That was his form of training. But it didn't get him very far. He was a career minor leaguer, and when that finally became apparent to him, entering the 1980 season with the Class AA Arkansas Travelers, Riggleman intensified his training, hoping the running could outlast the baseball.

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