Lead­ing Ti­tans on field never gets old to Richards

Se­nior short­stop’s pres­ence was a key to reach­ing Col­lege World Se­ries.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Cur­tis Zupke sports@la­times.com

The nick­name is a play­ful jab, and a badge of honor when Cal State Fuller­ton base­ball coach Rick Van­der­hook be­stows it.

Van­der­hook will some­times re­fer to a Ti­tans vet­eran as “the old man,” in recog­ni­tion of the ser­vice that player has put into the sto­ried pro­gram. Timmy Richards, Fuller­ton’s se­nior short­stop, has heard it quite a bit lately.

“It al­ways cracks me up when he calls me the old man,” Richards said. “Usu­ally it comes with ex­pe­ri­ence. It comes with an ex­pec­ta­tion that he puts on you to be a leader, and it is some­thing that I do try to em­brace.”

Richards em­bod­ies the moniker. One of only three se­niors on the Ti­tans, his lead­er­ship is in­valu­able for Fuller­ton as it opens the Col­lege World Se­ries against topseed Ore­gon State on Satur­day in Omaha.

Richards hit .500 (10 for 20) in the first two rounds of re­gional play­offs. De­fen­sively, he’s qui­etly been one of the na­tion’s bet­ter short­stops. He com­mit­ted only four er­rors in 23 Big West Con­fer­ence games and helped the Ti­tans rank eighth na­tion­ally in de­fense.

On a team with a pre­sea­son All-Amer­i­can and six All-Big West selections, Richards gar­nered only all-con­fer­ence honor­able men­tion. His value is mea­sured more in his 188 ca­reer games played for Fuller­ton and the calm­ing pres­ence he brings.

“He doesn’t need to have all those awards and stuff,” team­mate Hank LoForte said. “You can tell just by look­ing at him that he’s a grinder. We fol­low his lead. It’s just re­ally nice to have that kind of guy that can con­trol things when things get rough.”

Van­der­hook saw Richards do that dur­ing Game 3 of last week­end’s su­per re­gional against Long Beach State, when Richards gath­ered his team­mates on the mound dur­ing some hairy mo­ments of the ten­sion-filled fi­nale.

“He went out and made a trip and calmed some guys down,” Van­der­hook said. “You only get three trips in a game, so when you’ve got a short­stop that can make a cou­ple, that gives you five. You know that he knows how to the han­dle the guys’ per­son­al­ity.”

Fuller­ton’s 2-1 win against the Dirt­bags at Blair Field was ex­tra mean­ing­ful for Richards. He played at the sta­dium for Long Beach Wil­son High, and the mo­ment sym­bol­ized his path.

Richards was un­der­sized for a short­stop but started for Wil­son as a sopho­more. He raised his bat­ting av­er­age nearly 100 points from his ju­nior to se­nior sea­son af­ter he sim­ply buck­led down.

“More than any­thing he just came to the ball­park ev­ery­day and worked his tail off,” Long Beach Wil­son coach Andy Hall said.

“I wish I could take more credit,” Hall added. “I re­ally be­lieve kids are born who they are and it’s their work ethic. Timmy’s like that. He’s not the big­gest guy. He’s not the fastest guy. But he’s got­ten to where he is by his work ethic.”

Hall re­mem­bers a turn­ing point in Richards’ mat­u­ra­tion, when he benched the player for miss­ing a class.

“From that point on, he never missed a class,” Hall said. “[With] lead­er­ship, you have to get stung be­fore you re­al­ize what you have to do.”

Hall texted Richards af­ter the su­per re­gional win and told him it was a just re­ward for re­turn­ing for his se­nior sea­son. Richards could have turned pro when he was drafted in the 18th round by the Min­nesota Twins last year, but he re­turned for an­other shot at Omaha, where the Ti­tans went 0-2 in 2015. Last sea­son’s first-round elim­i­na­tion in a re­gional left a bad taste as well.

That Richards is play­ing for Fuller­ton and not Long Beach State is a changeup. Hav­ing grown up near the cam­pus, his fa­vorite player is for­mer Dirt­bags short­stop Troy Tu­low­itzki, and he en­vi­sioned oc­cu­py­ing the same short­stop space at Blair Field.

But Richards felt Fuller­ton’s style fit his. He also re­mem­bers watch­ing nearly ev­ery Ti­tans-Dirt­bags se­ries played in his back­yard.

“Fuller­ton pretty much won ev­ery one,” Richards said. “Be­ing a Long Beach State fan at the time, but watch­ing Fuller­ton win, it might have per­suaded my opin­ion a lit­tle bit.”

Richards now looks up to for­mer Ti­tans short­stops Justin Turner and Christian Colon, play­ers who might have fit the Van­der­hook old­man tag. Richards smiled when asked if he feels older than his team­mates.

“I don’t know if men­tally I’m that much older than them, but I think my body’s been through more,” he said. “I’ve been banged up a lit­tle bit this year, and I think that’s a lit­tle bit of where the ‘old man’ ti­tle comes from too.”

The ironic part of Richards’ el­der role is that he is un­able to join his team­mates’ sol­i­dar­ity move of grow­ing fa­cial hair.

Said Richards: “If I could grow the beard, I’d do that with them.”

‘You can tell just by look­ing at him that he’s a grinder. We fol­low his lead.’ — Hank LoForte, on Cal State Fuller­ton team­mate Timmy Richards

Christian K. Lee Los An­ge­les Times

SHORT­STOP TIMMY RICHARDS grew up a Long Beach State fan but wound up at Cal State Fuller­ton.

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