By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – Team Canada has revived Scott Richmond’s career more than once.
Two years ago, the right-hander was ready to hang up his cleats, and had already unofficially decided to retire from the game that he has called his home for over a decade. But then, the Pan Am Games and Greg Hamilton – Baseball Canada’s director of national teams – came calling.
Richmond’s name wasn’t on the first roster submitted by the national team that summer, but before the squad began its pre-tournament tour in North Carolina, he had managed to find a place to play – joining the Wichita Wingnuts in the independent American Association – and had two starts under his belt in preparation for a spot with the squad.
As part of his deal with the Wingnuts, the team asked the 6-foot-5, 220-pound hurler to return for the remainder of the season, following what turned out to be a gold-medal finish at the Pan Am Games. Finishing the 2015 season in Wichita, it was an easy decision for Richmond to rejoin his Canadian teammates for the inaugural Premier 12, hosted by Taiwan in November.
Impressing on the mound in Taichung, the native of Vancouver, BC was offered a spot in the Chinese Professional Baseball League with the EDA Rhinos for the following year. One championship season later, and the World Baseball Classic had all of a sudden landed in the 37-year-old’s sights, and after joining Team Canada more for his clubhouse presence than his on-field prowess a couple of years ago, he earned a chance to be a bigger contributor in Miami.
“I wasn’t even thinking [about the WBC],” Richmond said. “I was trying to get on a team to play at the Pan Ams in Toronto, which was great, and then Premier 12 ended up being after that season. And I guess those guys really liked me in Taiwan and they kept me there, so now I’m going into my second year there [readying for the upcoming season with the Fubon Guardians].
“We won the championship last year, and then the WBC came around again. So it’s hard to get out of here. And it’s so great playing for Canada. Greg and Ernie [Whitt, the squad’s manager] and all the guys are just fantastic, so it’s a big honour to be back.”
The original plan was for Richmond’s time at the Pan Am Games to be his swan song, closing out a professional career that started with three years of independent baseball in the Northern League with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats and included parts of four seasons in the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays. But he couldn’t resist a pull back into the indy game, wanting to fulfill his commitment to Wichita.
“The team in Wichita that I was playing for just to get ready for it, they were like, ‘Yeah you can get ready for it no problem, but we’re going to need you to come back after,’” Richmond said. “I was like, ‘Ah, I just wanted to retire after.’
“So it was all fine and then I came back, did well, and then Premier 12 was right there. I thought well, I’m throwing well, so I’ll keep that going. Then they liked the way I was throwing and it just snowballed.”
Richmond brought the same value on and off the field to the Wingnuts that he had to the national team in Ajax.
“When he first came in he said he was there as a tune up for Team Canada,” Richmond’s Wichita teammate Tim Brown said. “He wasn’t sure if he was coming back after the tournament, but after being gone for a few weeks he came back to finish out the season with us. He helped us not only as a terrific pitcher on the field but also as an experienced veteran presence in the clubhouse.”
Taking his talents to Taiwan for Premier 12 was then the beginning of a new chapter for Richmond, who had also played in the state for the 2007 World Cup and the 2008 Olympic qualifying tournament, and couldn’t say no to coming back for a season in the CPBL.
“It was great,” Richmond said. “The guys, the language barrier, it’s fun to play this game abroad. It’s a great game. They do it everywhere, and they’re passionate over there about it. It’s kind of new in Taiwan. Obviously Japan is the longest-tenured, and Korea’s got a good league going, so it’s just good to be over there. They’re willing to learn, they work hard, and I’m excited to be there.”
As Richmond rolled his time in Taiwan right over to this spring, and he got on the field with his World Baseball Classic teammates for the first time in Dunedin, Fla., he recognized the ways that the national team has continued to revive his career, and how circular his journey has been.
“I was just thinking it was 10 years ago I was at the Bobby Mattick facility on the back field throwing an independent ball tryout, and [the Blue Jays] ended up giving me a spring training invite,” he said. “Then after that, Greg called the next day and said, ‘Do you want to go to the World Cup in Taiwan?’ So to that point, that was the best 24 hours of my life. Then the Blue Jays signed me and they didn’t want me to go over there unsigned, so it’s been fun. It’s been fun being back here 10 years later.”
The right-hander got into one game at the Classic, throwing two scoreless innings and allowing just one baserunner on one hit in the tournament, but added much more to the squad than just that outing.
“I just want to go out there and help,” Richmond said. “I’m always a big guy in the clubhouse. I love to keep the guys loose, I have fun. I’ve been doing this for a long time…I’m supporting the guys, I’m always pumping their tires, and I’d love to just get out there and contribute.”
With much ado about the major leaguers missing from Canada’s roster at the Classic, Richmond happily made the trip from Taiwan for the tournament and appreciated many of his teammates who did everything they could to join, some of them extending their careers the way he first did for the Pan Am tournament.
“It’s great,” he said. “These guys are staples. They come back, every time they’re called, they’re there. And that’s all we can ask for. We don’t have the depth that these other countries have, and we need our guys, they step up and they put their families aside and they come out and give us their best. And there’s a new chapter starting and every team kind of has that, so we wish them all the best for sure and just to open the door for new opportunities for the younger group.”
Though the team’s run ended without a win, failing to advance out of the first round for the fourth consecutive time, Richmond was encouraged by many of the fresher faces on the roster, enthusiastic at the glimpse of what the future of Canadian baseball might hold.
“It’s exciting,” Richmond said. “I hadn’t seen some of these guys here, and they’re bringing mid-90s with good breaking stuff, they just need some experience and to be around the veteran group. And having Russ [Martin] here and the guys, and Eric [Gagne] back and [Ryan] Dempster coming back and pitching, just to be around the elite guys for Canada, it’s just good experience for them.
“And for me as well, it’s just great to be around these guys. We’re passionate about baseball and we’ve got a great group in there. The future’s bright, that’s for sure.”