A LITTLE CANADIAN FLAVOR …
It’s got the makings of being the kind of story they make Hollywood movies about.
Toronto Blue Jays rookie pitcher Scott Richmond knows that. He also knows there would have to be quite a bit more written, added to his already-amazing saga, to bring the folks from Miramax or even Disney to his door.
“It’s such an outrageous story that it could be a movie one day,” Richmond mused. “First I think I need to get in 10 more years and win a Cy Young award, but for now, to even get here under my circumstances is good enough for me.”
The 29-year-old right-hander has less than a year’s worth of affiliated pro baseball experience under his belt yet right now he’s expected to break big league camp with one of the Jays’ starting slots and right now is preparing preparing to represent Team Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
His Canadian squad opened up their pool play this past weekend at home at the Rogers Centre in a tough-fought loss to heavily-favored Team USA.
Frankly, it’s all a little surreal for Richmond.
A decade earlier, Richmond had graduated high school in Vancouver, B.C., but opted to go to work in the local shipyards rather than pursuing baseball or college.
Still, he kept busy by playing recreational baseball while working for three years, and friends kept urging him to give the game one more try. He finally took their advice, heading to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to play semi-pro ball and from there got a scholarship to play for a junior college team in Missouri.
He followed his coach there down south to Louisiana. His showings there got him a spot at a Division I school, Oklahoma State, where he graduated but went undrafted largely because of a lack of visas for Canadians citizens to play in the Minors.
Richmond wound up heading home and signing with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the independent Northern League, and pitched for them from 2005 through 2007.
Richmond won back-to-back Pitcher of the Year honors for the club and got to know several of the most established players in Canadian national baseball, names like Stubby Clapp and Ryan Radmanovich and Mike Kusiewicz and Mike Johnston.
They passed his name along to both Greg Hamilton, the director for Team Canada, as well as to Rob Ducey, a Team Canada coach who is also a scout with the Blue Jays.
Meanwhile, in the fall of 2007, Richmond and his good friend and Edmonton teammate Reggie Rivard, a pitcher who had played with the Rangers and Brewers systems, headed down to the warm climes of Arizona to hit the open tryout camps offered by several big league organizations.
“We’d go to the tryout camps and a lot of guys like me but there were no visas and definitely no room for a 27-year-old pitcher who had never been with an affiliated team,” Richmond said.
But Ducey passed his name on the Jays who invited him to a much smaller private workout, one where he was in a select group of just 20 or so guys.
“Instead of the usual ‘You pitched well, we like you but we don’t have room,’ which I’d gotten about 100 times, I heard ‘We like your stuff and we want to invite you to spring training,'” recalled Richmond. “I just smiled from ear to ear. A spring training invite! And then the next morning, Team Canada asked me to represent Canada in the World Cup in Taiwan. At that point, that was the best 24 hours of my life.”
So Richmond, whose travels had pretty much consisted of low-budget road trips to tryout camps, headed to the Far East to wear the maple leaf on the diamond, after which he returned stateside for his first spring training with his new team, his Toronto Blue Jays.
“It’s Canada’s team, and being Canadian, that was always our team to watch,” he said. “I mean, the Orioles are Baltimore’s team and so on, but the Blue Jays belong to the entire country!”
Richmond made his affiliated professional debut in the Double-A Eastern League with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, posting a 4.92 ERA in 16 starts and getting a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse.
He was also named to the Canadian Olympic team for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. In fact, his family was with him on the road in Indianpolis in anticipation of joining him for a brief stint in Toronto where that team was going to be introduced to the crowd prior to a Blue Jays game against Tampa Bay on July 30.
They were there for the introduction. But they were there for more as well. Because he was introduced as the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting pitcher that night, rather than with Team Canada, the sixth Canadian-born pitcher to ever play for the home team.
“Well, I had been excited about the Olympics,” he said. “But the only other thing that could have made me not want to go to the Olympics was making it to the big leagues so that was a positive thing.”
He pitched well in a 3-2 loss to the Rays and stayed with the club for several weeks, before returning to Syracuse for the stretch. He returned with the September roster expansion and overall finished with a 4.00 ERA in five games in the big leagues.
Throwing a fastball in the low 90s, a slider, changeup and curveball, Richmond is a favorite for one of the starting slots this spring.
But first, he has a little unfinished business to take care of.
“This will be like my little Olympics,” he said. “Every baseball fan in Canada knows all the Canadians in the Majors. I mean it’s not like there is a ridiculous amount of us. So to be in the same clubhouse together, to step on the field at the Rogers Centre wearing that jersey … Well, you’re always proud to wear your flag but to wear it at home with all those Canadian flags in the seats …”
He doesn’t finish the sentence. He doesn’t have to.