By RYAN MCCRACKEN on February 26, 2021.
Let’s take a trip back in time.
It’s 2020 – early March, before all the chaos took hold. COVID-19 is beginning to spread in North America, but optimism and excitement are still very much at the forefront in Medicine Hat as the hometown Tigers approach a home-and-home set with the Swift Current Broncos.
Two games on the horizon.
Then everything changed.
For almost a year, those two games have stood between Bob Ridley and one of the most incredible milestones a man in his role could ever reach – 4,000 games at the mic.
And for almost a year, I’ve been sitting on that story – one I wrote in a much simpler time, about a moment that could only come in a different world. Rather than discard that relic of an alternate reality, I’ve opted to present it in its original form here.
Our world may be vastly different now, but that four-grand moment is finally back within sight and it’s guaranteed to be a game like no other. For one, it’ll be the first home game Bob Ridley has ever called without any Tigers fans in the house. On its face, it feels inherently wrong for such an accomplishment to be reached in a near-empty building, but a shift of the lens shows a pretty special silver lining.
Don’t get me wrong, this man deserves a full house chanting his name on Feb. 27, and I know he’ll get that one day when the time is right. But for fate to deal such a hand at this moment is uncanny. With no one permitted in the building fans are left with two options if they hope to experience the action – a live stream, or the radio.
I vote the radio.
I vote we push this trip even further back in time.
Now it’s 1970.
The Arena is sold out.
So put some fresh batteries in that old radio, huddle the family around it and tune in to voice of a man who has gone on to embody the Tiger spirit for more than 50 years.
“What he’s accomplished is absolutely amazing. I really can’t see something like that ever being accomplished – well, it never will again. Not with him driving and calling games,” said Tigers head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins. “How do you go 50 years where you don’t miss a game? How do you do that? It’s unbelievable.”
But in Bob Ridley’s mind, 4,000 is just a number.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a number, but it’s an important number for me because of the milestone, you might say, and the long time I’ve been associated with the Western Hockey League and the Medicine Hat Tigers,” said Ridley. “It’s important for me, but for most other people they’d just say, ‘Hey, you’re an old guy and it’s a good thing you’ve survived this long.'”
But for so many in this city, it’s so much more than just a number. On its own, 4,000 may be just a string of digits, but when it takes more than 50 years of unparalleled dedication to arrive at that number, it becomes something bigger. And when every piece making up that sum is an experience shared by an entire city, the celebration of that milestone – just like every win, loss and championship run – is shared as well.
When reflecting on Ridley’s career and the impact he’s had on both the team and city, Desjardins may have summed it up best.
“(Four thousand games) is an amazing accomplishment, but even more amazing than that I think, is I don’t think anybody who’s gone through the Tigers has a bad thing to say about him,” said Desjardins. “I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about Bob Ridley from the players that have gone through.”
While this is only my seventh season covering the team, I can attest to that statement. I’ve spoken with current and former players and staff, I’ve chatted it up with lifelong fans – and not once has a single bad word ever been uttered about Bob. For some, he’s even tied to the spirit of the city.
“I think Ridley is synonymous with Medicine Hat because all of the franchise’s best memories have his iconic voice attached to them,” said former Tigers captain Mark Rassell. “For me, it’s awesome to have him call all my games when he’s witnessed the entire franchise’s history firsthand. It’s a large group of names he’s said over the years, but it is still an honour to be part of it.”
Rassell isn’t alone in feeling that way.
“Rids is awesome,” added Tigers alternate captain Cole Clayton. “It’s huge that he’s going to be hitting that milestone. It’s too bad it’s not in front of fans, but I think he’ll go down as probably the top WHL announcer ever.”
You won’t find many arguments for that last claim, but you will find a sea of support for the only voice the Medicine Hat Tigers have ever called their own.
“Tigers fans have been very fortunate to have Bob calling the games all these years,” former Tigers goaltender Kelly Hrudey said in a message to the News. “I seriously don’t think anyone could have done a better job!”
Whether his first game or his 4,000th, there has always been something about the way Bob shares his contagious love for the game – and I for one can’t wait to hear him belt out those iconic words on Saturday.
Ryan McCracken is city editor at the Medicine Hat News. He can be reached atÂ email@example.com