By Kevin Glew
Canadian Baseball Network
It has to be the most amazing defensive play ever made by a Canadian pitcher in a professional game.
And when you approach Vancouver native Scott Richmond to ask him about “that play,” he knows immediately what you’re referring to.
On August 14, 2016, the former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher was toeing the rubber for the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s (CPBL) EDA Rhinos against the Lamigo Monkeys. There was one out in the bottom of the second inning with a runner on first when Richmond delivered a low-and-way fastball that was lined directly back at him.
The Canadian hurler made the split-second decision to duck and turn his back while swinging his glove counter clockwise over his head to not only snag the ball, but then spin and throw to first base to double off the runner.
If you watch video of the play (above), the reaction of the announcers and coaches is priceless. They couldn’t believe what they had just seen. For his part, Richmond, after making the spectacular grab, calmly walked to the dugout.
“I didn’t want to come off with some cheesy smile,” recalled Richmond at the press conference prior to the Baseball Canada National Teams Awards Banquet & Fundraiser on Saturday. “I didn’t even know what had happened. When it happened, I wasn’t sure how I did it . . . But then I went inside and I said, ‘OK, show me the video of what just happened, because I wasn’t quite sure what I did. Did I do a 360? Did I fall down? Then when I looked at it, it just kind of looked natural and smooth. I was like, ‘OK, that looked kind of like I meant to do that.’ But really, it was just an educated guess. I guess I was just in the right spot at the right time.”
Footage of “that play” went viral and was shown on all of the major North American sports networks, including those in Canada. It was also shared on non-sports websites and Richmond received numerous texts and email messages after the game.
“That was the really cool thing about it, I was hearing from a bunch of people that I hadn’t heard from in a lot of years,” he said. “They were like, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV.’ And they showed it [the play] on something else besides a sports network or a sports related website. On the SportsCentre Top 10, I think it was the No. 1 play . . . It was just really cool because it gave me a chance to reconnect with people.”
Aided by Richmond’s defensive heroics, the EDA Rhinos captured the CPBL championship that season. He returned to China for a second season in 2017 and he’s hoping to go back for one more.
“I’m still working on that as of right now,” said the personable right-hander on Saturday.
For some, the adjustments to playing in a foreign country are too much, but Richmond, his wife Deanna and their three young daughters have embraced their time in Taiwan.
“Life is about experiences and I’m trying to have as many experiences as I can,” he said.
And the 38-year-old righty certainly has had his share of experiences during his unlikely 13-season professional baseball odyssey. Despite never being drafted, he has competed for teams all over North America, pitched in the same big league rotation as Roy Halladay and has been a key part of two Pan Am Games gold medal-winning national teams.
After graduating from Aldergrove Community Secondary School in 1997, Richmond accepted a job working the docks at the Port of Vancouver. Arriving before the crack of dawn and working until around 4 p.m. He did this for three years, squeezing in baseball games and practices whenever he could.
The 6-foot-5 hurler’s pitching talents were impressive enough for him to play with three U.S. colleges – Bossier Parish Community College, Missouri Valley College and Oklahoma State University – before he returned to Canada to suit up with the independent Northern League’s Edmonton Cracker-Cats for three seasons starting in 2005. It was while with the Cats that he was scouted by Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.), who then worked for the Blue Jays. Richmond would sign with the Blue Jays on October 20, 2007.
The then-28-year-old Richmond rocketed through the Blue Jays system, making just 24 starts between double-A and triple-A, before being promoted to the big leagues on July 30, 2008. But his major league debut was not without controversy. The homegrown righty had been slated to pitch for Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when the Blue Jays called him up.
“I was in minor league camp and I was four months into my [minor league] season when they called me up and I didn’t know anyone on the [major league] team, so these guys have no idea who I am and I get called up and I have a ton of media around me, not just because I got called up, but because I got taken off the Canadian national team roster,” recalled Richmond of the atmosphere in the clubhouse at Rogers Centre before his first major league start.
“So there were a bunch of, ‘Are you upset you’re not going to pitch in the Olympics or are you happy to be here?’ questions. So I said, ‘Listen, it’s not my call. I grew up to be a major leaguer, not an Olympian. It would’ve been great to do both, but I’m happy with the way things worked out. And if this is my time [to pitch in the big leagues], this is my time. I’m so happy I even have a time.'”
After navigating his way through the media mob, Richmond enjoyed his debut and now regards it as one of his career highlights.
“The first major league game I started, Team Canada was introduced before the game,” said Richmond. “So they watched my debut. So that was a cool moment for me.”
Richmond started against the eventual American League pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays that afternoon and allowed three runs in 5-1/3 innings and the Blue Jays lost 3-2, but it was a strong showing against an elite club.
Richmond continued to impress down the stretch and he earned a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation in 2009 alongside Halladay, who served as a mentor for the Canadian. More than anything else, Richmond remembers Halladay for his legendary work ethic.
“He was never in front of his locker. He was never just relaxing. He was always working,” recalled Richmond of Halladay. “His relaxing was relaxing in a freezing cold tub . . . He was never on his phone at his locker or playing cards. He was trying to be great and he was great.”
Halladay’s death in a plane crash on November 7 hit Richmond particularly hard.
“I felt weird for a few days. I just kept thinking, ‘Is this real?’ I just kept seeing that he’s 40. He’s 40. That’s not old. He was just starting his real life because baseball had consumed his life,” said Richmond. “It’s just really tragic.”
In all, Richmond would pitch parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays between 2008 and 2012, before taking the mound for parts of two seasons in the Texas Rangers organization and for another with the independent American Association’s Wichita Wingnuts in 2015.
Richmond credits much of his success to the confidence he developed pitching for the Senior National Team. When he was in independent ball, he lobbied national teams director Greg Hamilton for a spot on the squad and he was eventually added to the team. Richmond has since pitched on some of the country’s most successful teams, including on the gold medal-winning 2011 and 2015 Pan Am Games clubs. He recorded a save in Canada’s 2-1 upset win over the U.S. in the gold medal contest in 2011.
It’s these memories and the camaraderie he feels with Hamilton and his Canadian teammates that inspire him to come back to the National Teams Awards Banquet in Toronto each year.
“Baseball Canada gave me my opportunity,” said Richmond. “I was playing indy ball for three years and if I couldn’t get into affiliated ball, I wanted to play for my country. And I kept hounding Greg when I was a nobody playing indy ball. I’m sure he gets hundreds of those phone calls . . . I just wanted to be part of something and I just kept challenging myself to climb as high as I could and Greg gave me a chance and then the Blue Jays gave me a chance so I owe it to Greg to come back and do whatever I can for him and for baseball in this country.”
The veteran right-hander, who lives in Gilbert, Ariz., in the off-season, hopes to pitch another season, but set to turn 39, he has started thinking about what he’d like to do after his playing career.
“I love working with people. I’d love to stay in the baseball world. I don’t know what avenues are open,” said Richmond. “I could see myself coaching, but I could also see myself doing something totally different in life and trying to succeed in that and challenging myself that way.”