Riverdogs manager Zigler resigns

Almost every coach, when asked what they like best about the role, will have a distant look in their eyes as they ponder this most important task.

And almost everyone will be philosophical about working with kids, watching them grow and being part of something big in the lives of young athletes.

You could see that in the eyes of Clark Fork Valley Riverdogs head coach Jon Zigler every time he wore the Dogs uniform, watching his team as they prepared to face the next opponent.

Some, like Zigler, see even more.

“For me, baseball, he says, is almost romantic. Being on the field in the morning with freshly cut grass, a finely hauled infield, guys laying down the baselines, players stretching and getting ready… nothing like it.

And when you can take a group of youngsters and help transform them into better players who understand the meaning and feel of the game, that too is hard to top.

So by any standard, this recently completed Legion baseball season, which came with the usual high and low situations that coaches face, should rank number one in terms of success in the minds of a guy who likes the game and those who play. this.

Now, having guided this group of homegrown athletes to a 23-23 season record against consistently higher level opponents, Zigler will take some time to step back from this most demanding and time-consuming occupation. . When the Riverdogs battled through to the final Belgrade Legion Tournament after knocking out Butte, Helena and host Belgrade along the way, it marked the end, at least for now, of the romance. baseball coach Zigler has courted for years.

For now, because there’s another Zigler rising through the baseball ranks, this one a seven-year-old grandson. With his son and exceptional player Nate having exhausted his last year of eligibility this season, Zigler will retire from training.

But he won’t walk away from a game that has been such an important part of his life for so many years.

“I’m done coaching for now,” he said. “I plan to umpire for American Legion and Montana High School baseball next season. I have a 7 year old grandson who plays at Rookies level in Plains so I wouldn’t rule out coming back to coach him in a few years. This season was Nate’s last season. I would love to train with my grandson in the future.

You can probably bet on it.

This season, with the likes of Jack Taylor, Nate Zigler, Orion Plakke and Eli Ratliff among a strong hitting and pitching squad, the Dogs have shown from the start that they have the makings of a tough team to play.

After dropping their season opener in Missoula, the Riverdogs, ranked as a Class B Montana Legion team, bounced back and upset the Class A Mavericks the next day. They would continue to play baseball at or above .500 for most of the rest of the season.

Along the way, they dealt with the loss of Plakke, one of their best hitters and a multi-role player who broke a bone in his hand. Another player left the team for personal reasons and several were out for a game or two due to injuries or summer obligations.

For the Riverdogs, that often meant playing with the bare minimum of nine players available. Yet they fought, fearless by supposedly higher ranked opponents. They picked up a victory over Class AA Mead of the always tough Washington Legion scene.

“We always had the idea that when someone goes down, it’s the next one,” he said at one point during the season. “No excuses here.”

A key to success, observers would agree, is the general attitude of the players on the pitch and in the dugout. Morale, which could have fallen, remained high. The players remained ready to take on all comers, as they did in the season-ending Belgrade tournament in which the Dogs advanced to the semi-finals.

“My core philosophy is that if you’re not having fun, get out of the game. Obviously winning is a goal, but when players get so wrapped up in winning that it robs them of the passion to play the game, you you have to really question the priorities. Several times this season the players and I have had to have a conversation about it, ”said Zigler.

At the end of the season, Zigler received two letters of thanks from players’ families praising him for the positive effect he had on their sons. One of the letters was particularly special.

“Your leadership and continued support have helped him through some of his struggles this season,” said the letter writer, whom Zigler asked not to be named. “You were one of the first to celebrate big when he succeeded but also to lift him up when he failed.”

The comments, which were given to Nate by a team relative, Zigler said, were the “proudest moment of my entire tenure as Riverdogs coach.”

“I guess in many ways a real measure of a coach’s success at this level is the impact you have on a player and their family,” Zigler continued. “There were also comments from people close to Jack Taylor. I am sure that one day I will meet his wife and children, he will stay in touch with my family forever.

Another metric, he said, goes back to the attitude of the next player.

“Last season we started 0-14 before winning our first game. This season the boys expected to win every time they stepped onto the pitch. They thought they could beat anyone who they were playing against.

This is the true measure of training success…at every level.