Monday, October 24, 2011

When you were young: Chris Richard

I found this card in a dime box at the local a while back:

For a dime you can't do any better. Chris Richard was a hard hitting OF prospect with the Cardinals who homered in his first MLB at-bat in 2000. Twelve days after his debut he was quickly shipped off to the O's for Mike Timlin, whose rubber arm would keep him in the majors until 2008 and through 2 Red Sox WS. At the moment you would have thought it was a case of two guys crossing paths, one going up, the other down, the kind you frequently see around the trading deadline.

Drafted in the 19th round, Richard is one of those guys who aren't supposed to make the majors. I was thinking about this the other day when the Rays released 14 minor league prospects recently. Several of those guys were drafted THIS year. If drafting guys you'll soon release is a scouting failure, it's also a scouting failure that a guy who stays on the draft board for 18 rounds goes on to make the majors. 

I've written about this before, but I arrived in Baltimore in 2001, right after Chris Richard did. I remember the commercials, the excitement, the expectation surrounding the youngster from San Diego. The O's weren't supposed to contend, but a young core of guys like Richard and Jay Gibbons who were coming into their primes, the O's were on the cusp of contention. Richard responded with 15 HRs and a 127 OPS+ in 2001. I was finishing my MA at Johns Hopkins and contemplating going on for my PhD. The future was now and it was bright. 

It was a little strange, then, when many years later I found myself at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) with Chris Richard starting at 1B. At that point expectations of the future were somewhat murky if not tarnished, and I had learned several difficult lessons about what people in my racket euphemistically call "the life of the mind." Once again, Chris Richard was playing a major role for my local 9, only it wasn't the 9 Richard had envisioned back in 2001. 

I never met the guy or shook his hand, but like EJ he's one of the Bulls who looms large in my pantheon.    In 2009, all the way up where I live now, the compa and I were stoked to see Richard get called up at the end of the Rays' season. Dude had MASHED at Durham for 4-straight years, and here he was in the majors again. Things did not go as planned as he hit .222 with a .300 OBP in 27 AB. He also made an error at 1B which I remember vividly because both compa and I sat in silence for a few minutes afterward, the game moving on without us. 

Richard retired this past March from the Rays organization, the all-time franchise leader in HR. Cue up the Crash Davis references, which are wholly appropriate given he played for the Bulls, but I'll say Richard taught me a lot (again, I never met the guy).

Things change. We might come up short of the ideal. But we all owe it to ourselves and to those to whom we are responsible to grind it out everyday, to do our best, to shine wherever we find ourselves. Not bad for a 10 cent card.

Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!

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