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Teary-eyed Antoan Richardson retires

Bahamian baseball player walks away from the sport after 12 years in the pros
  • Bahamian professional player Antoan Richardson retired from the game of baseball yesterday after spending 12 years in the minor league system. He was called up to the majors twice – once with the Atlanta Braves in 2011, and the other with the New York Yankees in 2014. KEMUEL STUBBS

SHELDON LONGLEY
Guardian Sports Editor
slongley@nasguard.com

Published: Mar 08, 2017

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The Bahamian athlete who will always be remembered worldwide for his role in one of the more iconic plays in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB), called it a career yesterday, officially retiring from the sport that has been so good to him, enabling him to travel the world, create life-long friendships and connections, develop long-lasting memories, and most importantly, earn a living.

An emotional Antoan Richardson, the sixth Bahamian to reach the major leagues, walked away from the game of baseball yesterday. With that, he ended a professional career that spanned 12 years, most of which was spent in the minors between eight different major league franchises. Richardson was called up to the majors twice, once with the Atlanta Braves in 2011, and the other with the New York Yankees in 2014.

On September 25, 2014, Richardson became a part of history when he scored the game-winning run on Derek Jeter’s final at-bat at Yankee Stadium. Richardson scooted home from second base off a single by the Yankees legend, giving them a 6-5 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. That 2014 campaign with the Yankees was his last in the majors.

“Today, with baseball, and sports in general, I know that the boundaries are limitless. I wish to share with all my supporters, friends, family, well-wishes, coaches, and the entire Bahamas and America that I am retiring from professional baseball,” he said. “The sport has been so good for me, and I’m grateful for all of the opportunities. I have decided that the time is right to leave the sport and return home to directly invest in the young people of our country. I have grown to be more passionate about giving back to the community and being an uplifting force in the lives of young people pursuing their dreams.

“When you play professional sports, and play at the highest level, you have to check your passion level, emotionally, mentally and physically. I just realized that the passion level to play was a lil bit less than the passion to give back and help develop the youth. My passion to come back home and to assist in the development of the youth in the country started to pull me away from the game and I just knew that I wasn’t going to be able to dedicate myself for six months to get back to the top in baseball. My time is done. It’s about the next generation now, and supporting those guys.”

Richardson, 33, left The Bahamas as a young teenager almost 20 years ago to further his education and pursue a career in baseball. He moved up through the ranks, graduating high school and college, and was drafted four times before suiting up for the Arizona League Giants - a rookie league team of the San Francisco Giants. After five years in the Giants organization, Richardson was released and then signed as a free agent by the Braves in 2010. He played nine games with the Braves in 2011, finishing with two hits in four at-bats, and getting his first major league hit off Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw - today, arguably the best pitcher in the game. That winter, Richardson was granted free agency, and spent time in the Orioles and Minnesota Twins organizations before signing with the Yankees in the winter of 2013. That led to his most productive year in the majors, when he drilled five hits in 16 at-bats for the Yankees with one RBI. He stole five bases and scored twice, both on game-winning hits. In total, he was a part of four walk-off victories for the Yankees in the final month of the 2014 season.

In the winter of 2014, Richardson signed with the Texas Rangers. He became a free agent again, and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the winter of 2015, and finally with the Dodgers in the spring of 2016. Richardson told his agent about a month ago, that he had lost his passion to play, and was walking away from the game.

Present for his retirement announcement yesterday was one of his mentors, Senator Greg Burrows. Burrows, the founding president of the Freedom Farm Baseball League, was one of the persons who got Richardson started in the sport of baseball. He coached and mentored Richardson at Freedom Farm from his youth.

“I am honored that Antoan has invited me to an occasion such as this to be a part of the ending of his career seeing that I was a part of the beginning of his career,” said Burrows. “We did so much things in trying to coach him, in trying to find the position that he was best at. We found an individual who wasn’t scared, and had plenty speed. I decided to put him behind the plate to catch on many occasions. If you want to teach a child the game, to be a master at it, put him behind the plate early so that he could have the visibility of the whole field, control about 90 percent of the ball that is thrown in the game and be able to direct the game from one position. I think that was how Antoan was able to understand the game the way that he did.

“I want to congratulate him on a well-played career. I have many memories of a lot of young men like Antoan. Antoan gave me the bat that he got his first major league hit with, and I have it today. He is the first Freedom Farm athlete who signed a professional contract, the first who played in the big leagues, and now he is the first retiring. I am proud to know that I was there at the beginning and is here now at the end, and to watch him take over his new career as he begins to develop young men in this country. I am so proud and so pleased of his accomplishments. I will continue to support him in whatever he does.”

In the majors, Richardson had seven hits in 20 at-bats for a .350 batting average. He stole six bases and scored four times.

In the minors, he hit .273 for 15 total teams, racking up almost 900 hits, 15 of which were home-runs, and had over 200 RBIs. The speedy Bahamian also stole 331 bases, and scored 621 runs.

“When I was coming up, the sport had taken a back seat in the country, so playing in the major leagues was not even in the realm of possibility for me. I made it to the majors, and it has been a privilege and a blessing to be a pioneer of my time,” he said. “Following in the footsteps of some great Bahamians, today, it makes me proud to see that baseball in the country has experienced a resurgence. I want to take this opportunity to say thank-you. I could not have walked this journey without the support of the community, my family, friends, coaches, mentors and the fans for never giving up on me.

“My only goal right now is to launch a non-profit organization which is to assist student-athletes in their development both in the classroom and on the field - give them the best opportunities to succeed in whatever passion they desire. I’m going to be around the local leagues helping out as much as I can. My goal is to get into the Family Islands and assist in the development of the youth there, but go beyond baseball - have them experience growth in all sports and also in academics. I want to create a program that will effect every single student in this country.”

Richardson’s Limestone Foundation is an organization he created to improve opportunities for student-athletes to maximize their talents in the classroom as well as their respective sporting disciplines. Richardson was the sixth Bahamian to play in the major leagues behind Andre Rodgers, Percival “Wenty” Ford, Anthony Curry, Ed Armbrister and Wilfred “Sudgy” Culmer. Only Armbrister out of that group is living today.

“There has been about 20,000 people to ever play in the major leagues, so to be one of six from a tiny country such as The Bahamas is something special, and something I am very proud of especially given the hand that I was dealt to get there,” said Richardson. “The minors is such a difficult part of making it to the major leagues, so it’s extra important for someone to support you when you are going through the dirty work, and I had a lot of support. I remember I had the worst batting average after my first pro season, but the support I got from my mom and my aunt allowed me to go on hitting streak for about 30 games. I finished the year in the top 10 in stolen bases, runs scored, batting average, and just continued to progress. My family has always been my safety blanket. Thanks to them for all the support and never giving up on me. Also, I remember Jeff “Sangy” Francis (local baseball coach and mentor) used to drive all across America just to see me play. There is no feeling like seeing a familiar face in the middle of a long season. It makes it that much better.”

After battling two major injuries in 2015, Richardson said that he knew the end was near but still battled through.

“I wanted to come back in 2016 and play at a high level, and that didn’t happen. Today, I feel strong and I feel in good shape, but the passion is not what it used to be,” he said. “ The injuries might have played a small role, and there are a lot of things which played a role, but ultimately the passion to do something else was what trumped everything.”

On summing up his career, Richardson said that he wouldn’t trade it for anything and definitely feels that he made the right choice between baseball which has been a blessing, and track and field in which he experienced early success. Getting his first major league hit off Kershaw was monumental, and scoring the winning run in Derek Jeter’s last at-bat at Yankee Stadium was surreal, but he said that his most memorable experience as a professional would have been playing with eight other Bahamians in the 2017 World Baseball Classic – Qualifier 4 for Great Britain last September.

Even though they weren’t able to play for The Bahamas by means of the country not being qualified to play at that level as a nation, Richardson said that it was an unforgettable experience to share the field with his compatriots, and one that he will always cherish. Great Britain came within a game of advancing to the 2017 World Baseball Classic, falling to Israel in the championship game, 9-1.

The 5’8” outfielder will go down in history as one of the most productive players ever for The Bahamas in the sport of baseball. Now, his major focus is on getting other young Bahamians to experience the same success that he did, and beyond.


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