Grass isn’t growing under the feet of Bertha Riggs, at least not if she can help it.
Now well into her golden years, this soon-to-be 100-year-old is taking the opportunity to do as much as she possibly can.
Most recently the Oakdale senior was seen on the Jumbotron of Oracle Park in San Francisco as well as on the evening news. Why? Well, it all began with an adventure and a few friends.
“Bertha and I have been good friends for many years,” longtime community member and adventure seeker Steve Cooper shared. “She and my wife are really good friends and I knew what a baseball fan she was.”
According to Cooper, he knew of Riggs’ love for her hometown baseball team, the San Francisco Giants.
“My dad used to take me, it wasn’t the Giants it was the Seals,” Riggs said of the early days of going to baseball games with her dad as a child. “I was born and raised in San Francisco, so he would take me to the ball game with him.”
Cooper further explained that one day as he and Riggs spoke of her favorite team, she shared that she’d love nothing more than for them to win another pennant for her 100th birthday. Riggs will turn 100 on Sept. 16 of this year. Knowing his limitations and hopeful that this might happen, Cooper proposed another idea. A float around McCovey Cove.
“I brought it up to her daughter Nina and Nina said ‘great, let’s go,’” Cooper shared of his conversation with Riggs’ daughter, Nina Wright. “I called her our Cruise Director. She kept everything in line and kept Bertha comfortable.”
“I said I could swim,” Riggs chuckled as she recalled the initial conversation about being in a kayak instead of the stands. “It was fun. It was so different. I’ve been to the games so many times and looked out and saw everybody out there (in the cove) and thought how crazy. They should come up here and have a seat.”
But now she would be one of that “crazy” group, though it would take some planning and additional support for Cooper to feel completely comfortable taking her out into the bay.
Cooper enlisted the help of his friend and retired firefighter Don Amario to accompany them in a second kayak on the bay.
“He’s an ex-firefighter, so that’s what made me comfortable,” Wright said of her mother’s adventure with her friends. “That the two of them could handle mom. She said, “I could swim.” She was game right from the get go.”
“He was our support,” Cooper added of his friend’s involvement.
For Amario, the opportunity was a no brainer and he too was all in from the start.
“Steve Cooper’s always been involved, helping different people with different things,” Amario said of his friend. “So when he asked me, would you be interested in helping us, hey … anything you wanna do Steve, I’m good.”
And so the planning began. A Saturday day game was in order to make the birthday plan come to fruition. On Saturday, June 24 the trio of Cooper, Amario and Wright set out to give Riggs the birthday adventure of a lifetime – even if it came a few months early.
“The day turned out better than any of us could imagine,” Amario said, mentioning a fan who spends every game in McCovey Cove. “He just wanted pictures with her. She got on the big screen; she got on television. That day was perfect. It was beautiful.”
Once the two men loaded Riggs into a tandem kayak, they were good to go.
“She was solid in the kayak. No hesitation at all. She was comfortable,” Cooper said.
The trio chuckled as they recalled the day and the very quick celebrity status Riggs gained among the others in the Cove. As kayakers discovered the soon-to-be centenarian and her mission, they surrounded her for selfies and some ‘Atta girl’ kudos.
“Surrounded by love and kind people. It was just a fun time,” Riggs said.
“We were celebrities out there,” Cooper confirmed. “It was incredible. What a thrill to be a part of it.”
As the two men toured the birthday girl around the water, proud daughter Wright, watched from the shore declaring, “That’s my mom!” to passersby.
“The Ambassador of Fun, that’s my job,” Wright said of sharing these later years with her mom. The two women live together in Oakdale, so Wright can help care for her mom’s daily needs.
“Just being part of that whole thing. I knew it was going to be pretty neat for her,” Amario said, “it was neat for all of us. I mean it was so rewarding. When she was in the cove, everybody wanted to get a picture with her. Everybody sang happy birthday to her.”
Listening to the trio recount the day, Riggs beams with joy, sharing she threw kisses to everyone as she floated by.
“We had a lovely time,” Riggs said, beaming. “I just love everybody. I do, I really do.”
And for as much as she loves people, she also loves baseball. She shared fond memories of going to games and getting ice cream with her father as a child. She also shared her love for the team now and following their progress from her Oakdale home.
“It’s a clean, fun game. It’s just great,” she shared.
But sometimes, she admitted, she wishes they would take her advice.
“He’s okay,” Riggs stated of Manager Gabe Kapler. “He doesn’t take ‘em out when I say … Bring in another pitcher!”
But her support trio may have a solution to her criticism of the Giants manager.
“I’d like to see her throw out a first pitch at a game,” Amario stated. “Maybe for her 101st birthday she’ll get to throw out a first pitch.”
For now, though, the memories of their McCovey Cove trip will have to do.
“I find joy in helping you find joy in life. In adventure, in the spirit of adventure,” Cooper concluded.