Leading Titans on field never gets old to Richards
Senior shortstop’s presence was a key to reaching College World Series.
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
SHORTSTOP TIMMY RICHARDS grew up a Long Beach State fan but wound up at Cal State Fullerton.