Mike Riley is about 15 months removed from his many years in Corvallis, but Harold Reynolds had the Nebraska football coach revisiting his Oregon roots Friday during a phone interview with Hot Stove on MLB Network.
It included screen shots of some type-written stats from 1972 and memories of Whiffle ball leagues in the backyard of the Beck family and football games on the front lawn of Washington Elementary, where Riley recalled you had to dodge the flagpole and the sidewalks.
Riley, 62, moved to Corvallis in the sixth grade. Reynolds, 55, was always tagging along with his older brother, Donny. The Beck brothers included Gary, who would go on to be a longtime head coach at Corvallis High.
“It was like the most unbelievable place in the world to grow up, with the greatest group of people,” Riley said during a 10-minute interview. “I mean, we were all kind of like-minded. We just would gather up at either your house or Gary’s house, because you were close to campus. So if we weren’t playing Whiffle ball in Gary’s backyard or getting something going there, we were up on the Oregon State campus sneaking into a gym somewhere. But I don’t know if you could write a better story about a way to grow up with a great group of guys.
“We all grew up just loving to play. The neat part of it: Most of it was not through an organization. It was going to Ma Beck’s back yard and playing. It was going up on campus and playing. We just got guys together, played all day, and then rode our bikes home that night. That was life there.”
Riley said the biggest impact from that boyhood might have been that he “had to stay in it,” pointing to a coaching career that would start a few years later.
“I didn’t know anything else to do,” he said. “That was going to be my choice.”
The games at Washington were part of what the boys called “D.C. Football,” and Riley recalled not only that stats were kept but sometimes the boys would film the games. In one set of stats, Riley was showed at 318 yards and completing 51.7 percent of his passes.
“We had injuries, too,” Riley said. “We had guys carted off. It was all the parts of football … no gear, of course. It was actually a blast.”
Hot Stove co-host Matt Vasgersian was amazed that some of the stat sheets remained. One Whiffle ball sheet from 1972 showed Riley hitting .273 with one home run in 33 at-bats. Reynolds said the Beck home recently had been sold, but the memories would live on.
“It was beautiful,” Riley said. “I’m so thankful for that. And, of course, lifetime friends, right?”
Riley is ready to turn his full attention to football, with Nebraska starting spring practice on Saturday. Riley said he was “so thankful for all the stuff I’ve gotten to do in coaching,” but reiterated his frequent line about himself and wife Dee being ready for one last adventure.
“We had kind of a strange year last year, a lot of close games, but great group of kids, great place, great history,” Riley said. “Tons of good people in this state. Looking forward to our second go-round. Got a good vibe going around here right now.”