Wichita Wingnuts Scott Richmond Turning Obstacles into Opportunities
There is nothing like the deciding game of a series to get the juices flowing. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about Game 7 of the World Series or Game 3 of the Northwest League Championship, the pressure is enormous because one team knows that they are going home while the other knows that they continue on. It’s a chance to win it all for either team, or a chance to be eliminated.
Tonight that will be the situation in Wichita as the Wichita Wingnuts will play host to the Laredo Lemurs in Game 5, with the opportunity to play the Sioux City Explorers on the line. With the series tied at two, this should be a tension-packed contest that has the makings of a classic.
Interestingly enough the guy starting for the Wingnuts may be the one feeling the least pressure of all. Needing a huge outing from their starter, Wichita will turn to right-hander Scott Richmond hoping he can rebound from a tough Game 1 outing and carry his team to the next round. The pressure is on for him to come through with a big start to help the team achieve that goal, but if anyone knows Richmond well they will understand that he will likely be the most relaxed guy in the park tonight.
Before there is any other discussion about the right-hander, it needs to be made clear that relaxed does not equate to apathy. No one will be working harder or doing more to try to help his team win – he just won’t be sweating up a storm worrying about what his performance will be like.
Extreme confidence in himself? It is not really that at all. It is a simple understanding of the nature of how Scott Richmond’s life has progressed. Something always seemed to stand in the way of an opportunity to make it to the next level for the right-hander, but he worked to regain that opportunity and, once it was available to him, took full advantage of it. Call it the Richmond Law of Successfully Accomplishing Goals Through Opportunity if you will, but the truth is that very few have made more out of the chances they have been given than Richmond.
America loves an underdog story. A Kurt Warner. A Rudy Ruettiger. A guy who had no chance of succeeding, it seemed, but worked his tail off to gain an opportunity to join the national consciousness of American sports. These are the heroes that are celebrated because they are men that everyone looks at and can relate to. The true underdog who goes from a supermarket checkout clerk to Super Bowl quarterback, or from a runt to playing on the biggest college football stage in the country.
Scott Richmond should be included in the pantheon of those heroes, but one thing has likely stood in the way of him being celebrated in the same way – he was born in Canada. Scott Daniel Richmond was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, an area known much more for its passion about hockey and lacrosse than it is for baseball.
Scott’s birth father was a man born in New Zealand who had virtually no knowledge of the game of baseball at all (in fact, Scott jokes that he was the one who taught his dad the game). A career in the game was already beginning to look a little stacked against him, but Scott was blessed to have a step-dad who loved the game and wanted his son to love it too.
“My step-dad is a big baseball fan and he taught me how to play and how to pitch, he was a pitcher, and he got me interested in the game so that I loved playing and it kind of went from there.”
When Scott reached high school he faced a new obstacle – there was no high school baseball team. Baseball is not a competitive sport in high school leagues in British Columbia, so he was forced to play wherever he could find a team. For many, this may have steered them toward another sport, especially considering that they had no real gauge of how truly good they were, but not for Scott. He loved baseball and took these opportunities to hone his skills.
Richmond decided to come to college in the United States, partially because it gave him the opportunity to play baseball. He excelled at Missouri Valley College and Bossier Parish Community College, catching the attention of baseball powerhouse Oklahoma State. Scott transferred there and instantly starred for the team. In 2004 he was the Cowboys opening day starter and finished that year 3-3 with a 4.66 ERA. More importantly, his opportunity to play at the Big-12 school gave him a clear indicator that he had what it took to succeed on bigger stages.
“When I went to college I started to realize where I stacked up, and got an idea of where I stood. I wound up being the opening day starter at Oklahoma State which was a pretty big deal, and I pitched in big games and realized I could do this. I could pitch at a high level.”
After his junior season he was sure he was going to get drafted. Scouts were taking a serious look at Richmond and many had even told him that it was likely he would be drafted somewhere between the fifth and 1oth rounds. He waited only to learn that his name was not called. In the aftermath of 9/11, it was much harder to gain a visa for foreign born players, and Scott was openly told there were no visas available for him.
Back to Oklahoma State he went for his senior season but still no team came calling for him to join their club. With the opportunity to join a Major League affiliate gone, Scott got a call from Edmonton of the Northern League (many of the teams in the Northern League joined the American Association after the Northern league folded). Independent ball was his only choice and, not needing a visa to play in his homeland, Richmond was off to play in Alberta.
All Scott wanted was a chance and, while not a Major League affiliate, he was getting that chance in Edmonton. His first season he struggled a bit, going 1-4 with a 6.25 ERA in seven starts, but in 2006 he moved to the bullpen and was a key to the club’s success, going 3-6 with 8 saves and 3.03 ERA in 39 appearances. The next season he was back in the rotation and excelled again, winning 10 games in 23 starts while tossing two complete games.
That season was about to change his life. Some of his teammates were quite impressed with the then 27-year-old’s performance, and decided that someone really needed to take a look at the big right-hander.
“From there a few guys on the team called the Toronto Blue Jays and told them, ‘Hey you need to take a look at this guy. He’s 27-years-old, never had a shot, he got kind of lost in the shuffle because of visa issues, but he can pitch. Take a look.’ So they sent a guy out, and the next season I got a Spring Training invite. They signed me to a contract and I started the season as the opening day starter in AA, and four months later I was in Toronto.”
It truly was a whirlwind rise. In 2008 he began the season at AA-New Hampshire where he was 5-8 on a very bad team. His performance caught the attention of the organization and they moved him to AAA-Syracuse after 16 starts. In Syracuse Richmond was really impressive, going 1-3 with a 3.56 ERA in eight starts.
His starts in Syracuse were impressing more than just the Blue Jays organization. Team Canada was about to head off to the Olympics in Beijing and Richmond was going to be a key starter for the team. He was thrilled to be representing his country, but opportunity created a whole new path for him.
“Our team wasn’t very good in New Hampshire-AA, but I had 10 straight good starts there, and then they called me up to AAA, and there I had five good starts in a row. I was about to go to the Beijing Olympics with Team Canada in 2008, and they called right before my start in Indianapolis. I was actually leaving after that start to go to Toronto anyway to be introduced before the Blue Jays game a few days later, where they were going to give the fans a look at the 2008 Canadian Beijing Olympic Team. Instead, I wound up starting that game and all of Team Canada got to see my debut.”
Scott made five starts for the Blue Jays that season, posting a 1-3 record and a 4.00 ERA. It was an absolutely amazing turn of events that saw the right-hander move from being a starter for a now defunct independent league team to a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues in less than one year’s period of time. That is the kind of story that gets an Academy Award nomination in the United States.
The righty would make a total of 36 Major League appearances, finishing with a career mark of 9-14. He also was 34-42 in 129 minor league appearances. Many may not see those as particularly big numbers, but for a guy who had so many obstacles in his path just to reach the Majors, they are as impressive as that of any 300-game winner.
After the 2014 season he was released by the Texas Rangers organization and was considering hanging it up. Team Canada wanted him to play for the team this year and, since the Games were to be held in Canada, he really wanted to represent his country in front of his fellow countrymen. To do so he needed a place to play professional baseball, and so he called his friend, Wichita Wingnuts owner Nate Robertson, to see if the club had a spot for him. With the loss of LHP Anthony Capra to Mexico they did and so Richmond made one start before heading to play for Team Canada.
Following the Canadians winning the Gold in the Pan-Am Games (the second straight time they had done so and Richmond was on both teams), the righty returned to the Wichita Wingnuts to finish out the season. He had already determined that this was going to be his last year, but loved the idea of helping Wichita reach the playoffs. It was the first opportunity in his professional career to play in a playoff series.
Richmond’s return could not have happened at a better time. The Wingnuts were heading into the All-Star break before heading out east for a 10-day trip. They had lost Omar Bencomo from their starting rotation and were really in need of a boost. The Wingnuts starter delivered.
Scott went 5-0 after returning to Wichita. For the season he made 10 starts and a relief appearance, going 6-1 with a miniscule 1.79 ERA. His numbers were incredibly impressive as the right-hander allowed 54 hits and just 7 walks in 65.1 innings pitched, while striking out 54. His nearly 8:1 strikeout to walk ratio was ranked in the top three in the American Association. In his last eight starts the 35-year-old allowed more than two runs just once. Extremely impressive for a guy intending to retire.
Tonight the 6-5, 215 pound right-hander will take to the mound for the Wichita Wingnuts trying to pitch his team into the championship series in the American Association. For most, they would be feeling a lot of pressure right now, but Scott Richmond has faced challenges and adversity all his life. He has overcome the many obstacles that stood in his way of even becoming a baseball player, much less a Major Leaguer, and has excelled with grace and humility the whole time. Many may think that trying to beat the Laredo Lemurs after they scored six runs against him in the Game 1 start is too much of an obstacle to climb. I guess those people haven’t learned anything from watching the career of Scott Richmond.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA