Nationals manager Jim Riggleman used the occasion of his college homecoming over the weekend to stump for a minor league baseball team in Cumberland, Md., the Allegany County seat that was once a key transportation and industrial hub in western Maryland.
According to The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa., (and thanks to the eagle eye of Nationals Buzz correspondent Kristen Hudak), Riggleman visited Frostburg State University for weekend homecoming festivities and endorsed a Cumberland groups' efforts to recruit a minor league baseball team to the city.
"I've learned about this group's effort to bring baseball to Cumberland, and I think it would be outstanding," Riggleman said, according to the paper. "I don't know exactly what it would take to get it done, but Iâ€ˆthink because of the excitement in western Maryland that people have for baseball, it's something that really would be supported."
Baseball4Cumberland, a group of baseball-loving locals who want to bring a minor league team to their hometown, hopes to build a multipurpose sports and entertainment complex to help reinvigorate Cumberland, which was home to a team in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League and Class C Middle Atlantic League for parts of three decades early in the 20th century. A feasibility study is the organization's next step in the process of securing a team.
In 1931, when Cumberland was a New York Yankees farm team, Babe Ruth played in an exhibition game at Mid-City Park. But the Yankees moved their team to Wheeling, W. Va., the following year and the Great Depression helped end a chapter of Cumberland's baseball history.
Allegany County has a storied baseball history. Lonaconing, Md., produced Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove, a 300-game winner during a career with Philadelphia and Boston. His 1931 National League MVP Trophy is housed in the Lonaconing library. Bob Robertson, the first baseman for the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, is a Frostburg native, and other major leaguers from Cumberland include Sam Perlozzo and Aaron Laffey.
Riggleman graduated from then-Frostburg State College, where he played baseball and is a member of the school's athletic hall of fame. He still holds the Bobcats' single-game records for homers (three), RBIs (eight) and total bases (12). He was a fourth-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974 and reached the Triple-A level with the St. Louis Cardinals organization before embarking on a successful 18-year career as a coach and manager in the majors.
"As Iâ€ˆtraveled through the minors, it was really something to see how fans really cheer for those players and get behind them," Riggleman said. "A minor league team is great for a community, and it's great for the economy of the community."