Richmond hoping to bring career full circle with Canada at 2020 Olympics

Scott Richmond will represent Canada this month at the Pan Am Games. (Dennis Grombkowski/Getty)

TORONTO – In the summer of 2008, Scott Richmond parted ways with the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs and headed to Toronto, where he was to meet the Canadian national team ahead of a trip to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. The right-hander was expected to be the staff ace and he was understandably excited about it.

Along the way, though, plans abruptly changed. The Blue Jays, who’d signed the right-hander from the Edmonton Trappers of the Northern League the previous fall, had a sudden need for pitching. The then 27-year-old, with all of three months in affiliated ball, was the best option so rather than becoming an Olympian, he instead became a big-leaguer. On July 30, a day after the Canadian national team was introduced at Rogers Centre, Richmond threw 5.1 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts.

"So much happened in that two weeks there, it was crazy," says the now 39-year-old. "With moving up the system, getting a chance at the Olympics with the national team and then all of a sudden I’m a major-leaguer – I was blinking and it was like, ‘Holy crow.’"

More than a decade later, Richmond is still pitching, and at the WSBC’s Premier12 tournament Nov. 2-17, he’ll try to help the national team bring his career full circle by clinching a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The event is the first of three potential shots Canada will have to reach the eight-team event as baseball returns to the Summer Games, and it will need to finish ahead of all the other entrants from the Americas – the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic – to secure the available spot next month.

"To be an Olympian after missing that opportunity would be an amazing accomplishment," says Richmond. "As a baseball player, to be a major-leaguer is something very, very few people can say they’ve accomplished. That’s the pinnacle in my sport. If I was a shot-putter or a sprinter, the Olympics are my pinnacle.

"There were a whole bunch of things going through my mind at the time. I don’t look back at that thinking I missed this big opportunity. It would have been nice to do both but it wasn’t my time to have that opportunity. Now, to wrap up my career at the Olympics would be icing on the cake."

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The challenge for the Canadians is significant, as they are grouped with Cuba, Australia and host South Korea in the first round, and they’ll need to finish among the top two to advance to the Nov. 11-16 Super Round in Japan.

Should they fall short at Premier12, there will be another opportunity during the Americas regional qualifier in March, with a last-chance competition shortly after that. Getting top players at each stop along the way will only become more difficult, so Premier12 could be Canada’s best shot at things, although Justin Morneau’s withdrawal from the club this week is an unexpected wrench in the plans.

Baseball Canada named outfielder Demi Orimoloye the replacement for Morneau, who last played competitively at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. While his presence will be missed – he’s among the most respected members of the Canadian baseball fraternity – the national team lineup will have some similarities to the one that won silver at the Pan American Games this summer.

Jordan Lennerton at first, Jonthan Malo at second, Wes Darvill at shortstop, Eric Wood at third base is a possible combination for the infield, with Kellin Deglin and Dustin Houle handling the duties behind the plate. The Pompey brothers, Dalton and Tristan, are probably for the outfield along with former Blue Jays all-star Michael Saunders.

On the mound, Philippe Aumont anchors the staff, with Brock Dykxhoorn and Rob Zastryzny also candidates to start. Richmond, who logged 102 innings over 17 starts for the Quebec Capitales of the independent Can-Am League this past season along with a seven-inning outing at the Pan Ams, could start, or could be used out the bullpen in a number of different roles.

Either way, he’s still topping out at 90 m.p.h. and sitting just under it, with plus command and an array of secondary offerings he uses to keep hitters off-balance and guessing at what comes next.

"I’ve got to have the whole kitchen sink," he quips. "I’m pitching in games that are competitive. I’m not mop-up guy, I’m not Johnny Cheerleader – I’m contributing still. Obviously in these Olympic qualifiers, as we get better starting pitching, I might get bumped to the bullpen, which is fine, because I bring to the team more than just pitching. All the experience in international baseball over the years, all these things I’ve been through come into play."

Few have as unique a baseball story as Richmond, who didn’t pitch in high school, spent three years as a dock worker in Vancouver, eventually found his way into college baseball in the United States, then to independent ball with the Trappers, and, finally, to the Blue Jays.

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In all, he appeared in 36 games over parts of four seasons with Toronto, earning American League Rookie of the Month honours in April 2009, a month after being slated to pitch for Canada at the World Baseball Classic, saved for a third game the team never made it to. He pitched in triple-A with the Texas Rangers in 2013 and ’14 and then began a great baseball odyssey which has taken him to South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Italy, and, finally, Quebec.

Sprinkled into those years were stints with the Canadian national teams that won gold at the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games, along with the 2017 squad at the World Baseball Classic. It was after that tournament that Richmond decided to try for the third turn at the Pan Ams, and then the current attempt at the Olympics.

"We’re definitely on the backend of the career," he says wryly.

Jokes aside, Richmond’s ongoing persistence and determination are representative of the dogged style that typically allow Canadian national teams to overachieve on the international stage. As such, his leadership and experience are almost as important as the innings he logs.

"That’s a key point of our jobs," Richmond says of sharing his knowledge with younger or newer players to the national squad. "International tournaments are a whole lot different than, ‘I didn’t get them today, I’ll go get them tomorrow.’ As pitchers, you’ve got to mesh with a catcher you’ve never thrown to, get on the same page. He doesn’t know your best stuff. You need to be vocal to make sure they know your strengths and what you like to do in certain situations.

“And then also, especially as relievers, you need to make sure the hitters beat you the other way, because you can’t afford to miss in during an early November tournament when not everyone is super sharp. If you’re going to get beat in international tournaments, they’re going to have to beat you oppo because it’s just as hard for the hitters to hit as well, instead of laying a cookie middle-in they can jump. It’s pitch smart and live to pitch another day."

The approach has served Richmond well, and he’s hoping it will carry him to one more baseball adventure, to an opportunity missed long ago.

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