About Jeff Rich
Growing up in Northeast Ohio, we’d play baseball in the cul de sac in the summers and backyard football in the fall. We all played Little League Baseball and some of us would play organized football. I was among the some. We had other interests along the way, notably girls once we reached a certain age, but it was our love of sports that brought us together at an early age.
My father played football and wrestled through high school. He coached youth football in our community when I was just a small fry, and then my peers and I, once we grew to be medium-sized spuds. Mom never cared about sports, but she was always supportive of my brother’s interests and my own. One of her claims to fame among the football moms was just how clean she had our uniforms on game day. My stepfather was a college athlete and always made sure we looked the part.
Looking the part was sometimes all I had going for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments, but was never spectacular at anything I played. I did challenge myself to be a catcher, a shortstop, a quarterback—three of the most challenging roles in all of sports. Come high school, I couldn’t hit the curve ball or run fast enough to be as small as I was on the gridiron.
Like most, I was relegated to being a spectator. Don’t get me wrong, hooting and hollering with my father, with my brother, and/or my friends were some of the best times. Words can’t describe the bond we shared over the teams of my youth. The Browns were taken away from Cleveland prior to my senior year, but a very well-timed rebuild and brand new ballpark made the baseball team the talk of the town.
Shortly after that, I began exploring pastures beyond those of Northeast Ohio, but the Indians were perennial contenders, so there was always something to keep my engaged with my home, no matter how far away I might have been. Once the Tribe’s torrid run was done, Ohio State hired Jim Tressel as their football coach and the Cavaliers drafted a dude from Akron to be their savior. Championships would follow.
The downside of my loyalty to “back home” was the requisite reluctance to embrace my new home. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series six weeks after I became an Arizona resident, but it was too soon for me to enjoy it. The football Cardinals home games were rarely, if ever, on TV.
There’s also a major college program in town, but those Sun Devils didn’t much care for my scarlet & grey attire. In a lot of ways, it seemed there was nothing for outsider like to me to grasp onto around these parts.
Of course, things change as you get to know people in town. I became acquainted with guys who worked in radio. I became friends with the guy who drove the Zamboni and took care of the ice for the NHL team in town. There were guys who played college football, and a few who can say they played in the NFL.
The one I thing I had in common with every single one of them, none of them were Arizona natives either. I had no reason to drop my “back home” allegiances.
I was still an Ohio State fan in 2005, but money was tight around Christmas time. The Buckeyes were set to play Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, but I needed more money and that meant a moonlighting gig at a Tempe restaurant. I met this girl there, and she made sure I knew how much she disliked Ohio State and hoped the Irish would crush them. She was from Chicago, so the Notre Dame thing made sense, but we was more anti-Buckeye than pro-Irish.
I ran into her at a bar a few months later, and we seemed to connect on the plane of being disgusted with the White Sox being champs. It came with the territory of being a Cubs fan for her. It came courtesy of a late season collapse by the Indians, which paved the way to the playoffs and World Series for the dirty south siders.
Our first date was at a bowling alley, our second was on the golf course, and most of our plans involved sports in some way. My zamboni driving friend had moved on to another organization, but this girl and I grew into hockey fans together. We liked the Coyotes, something local we shared.
I asked her to marry me after a few months, days before attending our first Cubs game together at Wrigley. She was disappointed I didn’t pop the question at the Friendly Confines (but still said yes). Our relationship has mostly consisted of one of us trying to outdo the other with crazy sports adventures, ever since.
She’s always supported the craziness that comes with me and sports, something that would make a lot of women quickly retreat. When the radio guys plugged me in on an internet radio show, I noticed a lot of the guys around me didn’t have families. It’s a rough business, and you hear from the radio vets the key to success is to stay single.
I didn’t have to do that. I can tell you that I lead a blessed life, but these words “about me” are just a testament that I couldn’t do it alone…not without my wife, my loving family, and a great group of friends.
There are still many miles to travel in this journey we call life. I’ve come a long way, but you ain’t seen nothing yet!