In the sports movie classic “The Bad News Bears” there’s a scene where Walter Matthau, who plays a little league baseball coach, talks to one of his players during the championship game. In the scene, Buttermaker, Matthau’s character, tells Rudy Stein to lean into the pitch and get hit. Stein tells Buttermaker that he doesn’t want to do that because “it will hurt.” Buttermaker responds by saying “you want to win the game, don’t you.’ Want to meet to today’s version of Rudy Stein? Meet Ronnie Richardson.
UCF’s starting centerfielder wants to win and unlike Rudy Stein, Richardson has no problem getting hit by a pitch if it means he gets on base and gives his team a better chance to win. In fact, Richardson is mastering the art of getting hit by a pitch.
Richardson has been hit by a pitch for a single-season record 23 times and 53 times in his career, trailing former teammate Shane Brown who was plunked 55 times in his career.
But it’s more than just the number of times Richardson has been hit. It’s how he gets hit. There’s a 94-mile-per hour fastball. There’s an 88-mile-per hour slider. And there’s the 72-mile-per-hour changeup. Most of the pitches that hit Richardson are not intentional. Once in a while, he wonders if the pitch is more than one that “got away.”
Getting hit by a pitch is not fun. It can hurt. So, how does Richardson deal with it? How does he deal with the bruises and does he ever play “Rudy Stein” and lean into one to get on base?
“I think of it as getting on base to help my team win,” said Richardson. “But it hurts at times, don’t get me wrong.”
Richardson knows as a leadoff man his job is to get on base. But taking a blazing fastball can leave a mark.
“I got hit in the back as I turned against UAB with a hard fastball and that one hurt,” said Richardson. “Later in the game, I got hit a third time and I started wondering if something was going on.”
Richardson says it might surprise some to think that a curveball might hurt more than the fastball. Why?
“On the fastball it just hits you and you don’t know it’s coming, “said the junior from Eagle Lake, Fla. “The curveball you actually have to think about how to turn and get out of the way and that sometimes ends up stinging the most.”
Has Richardson ever gone “Rudy Stein” and taken one for the team to get on base?
“Oh yes. You’ve got to do what you have to do to get on base,” said Richardson.
While opposing catchers have never said anything about whether he is leaning into pitches on purpose, umps have warned him about such a move, something college baseball has cracked down on this year.
Baseball has always had a relationship with statistics. There are numbers that are etched in the game’s history. There’s DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Ted Williams is the last to hit .400. There’s 3,000 hits and there’s 500 homers as special milestones to reach. But now Richardson zones in a number of his own. He is two hit-by-pitches shy of tieing former teammate Shane Brown for the UCF record. What would it mean to own the record?
“Having any record Shane Brown had at UCF would be an honor,” said Richardson, a former teammate of Brown. “And I guess this would be pretty special as well.”
So what happens if it’s late in the season and Richardson is tied with Brown at 55? Would he pull a “Rudy Stein” and lean into one?
“Well, if it gets me on base and gives a chance to win, you never know,” said Richardson.
Spoken like an artist who has mastered his craft…