NEW YORK – Clayton Richard finally realized he was on the wrong field.
For 21 years, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Richard thought he was happiest covered in pads with a football in his hand, leading an offensive charge down the field.
But after being frustrated with his place in the Michigan football program, Richard moved across campus to the baseball diamond.
It was the best decision he could have made.
He spent the 2005 season with the Wolverines, then was drafted in the eighth round by the Chicago White Sox, which had already selected fellow Wolverine Chris Getz in the fourth round that year.
Richard and Getz have taken the White Sox organization by storm. They have both risen through the minors to reach the Triple-A Charlotte (N.C.) Knights.
A glimpse at the future
Richard and Getz were both selected to represent the White Sox organization in the July 13 All-Star Futures Game, which annually showcases some of baseball’s best prospects.
“Most of the guys who played in this game in the past few years have wound up in the big leagues a year or two later,” said Tino Martinez, World Team manager and former Yankee first baseman. “According to all the scouts and coaches, all of these guys in this game have a chance to be in the big leagues.”
Richard started for Team USA and surrendered a hit and an unearned run in one inning against. He took the loss, but his pitch location and power spoke more about his potential than the unearned run did. He threw just 13 pitches in the inning, seven of them strikes.
“I pretty much rely on my fastball, moving it around the plate,” said Richard, who was named to the U.S. Olympic team on Wednesday. “That’s pretty much what I pitch off of.”
Getz entered the game in the top of the sixth at second base. He batted in the bottom of the inning, grounding out to shortstop Ramiro Pena, who made a diving stop and fired the ball to first to rob Getz of a single.
Getz also had a nice defensive stab in the top of the seventh, edging out a baserunner with a 4-6 force out.
`The Futures Game is a unique opportunity for minor league players to make a name for themselves in a big league environment with scouts from every team watching.
But for Getz, a Grosse Pointe native, the game isn’t even as exciting as the trip itself.
“I’ve never been to New York, let alone Yankee Stadium,” Getz said. “It was pretty cool being in the locker room. I think I got Jason Giambi’s locker. It’s so cool.”
Two different paths
Both Getz and Richard knew they wanted to be professional athletes – they just didn’t necessarily agree on the sport. Getz knew from the start baseball was his calling. Richard had to decide which ball he’d rather throw.
Richard came to Michigan as a highly touted quarterback, eager to earn a starting position with the Wolverines.
He redshirted his freshman year. The following year, Richard competed for the starting quarterback position, but Chad Henne beat him out. As a backup, Richard completed eight passes in 15 attempts in 2004.
“I felt like I didn’t get a very good opportunity playing football – not like what I thought I was going to get,” Richard said. “When that happened, I decided to go out there and try out baseball. (Michigan) coach (Rich) Maloney let me play, and it worked out ever since.”
Richard and Getz became teammates that season, and Richard appeared in 21 games for Michigan, earning five saves and posting a 2.43 ERA.
Getz had transferred to Michigan after completing his freshman year at Wake Forest. He cited the coaching staff and Michigan’s tradition of excellence as his main reasons for switching schools.
“The (Wolverine) program has gotten better and better each year,” Getz said. “Coach Maloney, I mean, I couldn’t have asked for a better coach. He prepared me for pro ball.”
In his two seasons as a Wolverine, Getz was named all-Big Ten at second base. He hit 0.386 his junior and final season and won the Bill Freehan Award, an honor given to the top offensive player at Michigan each year.
With Richard and Getz on the field in 2005, Michigan went 42-19 and reached the NCAA Tournament.
The two Wolverines were both drafted following the 2005 season, and both ended up in the White Sox organization.
“We got drafted together,” Getz said. “We’ve come up together. It’s always better with a familiar face.”
One step at a time
Minor league baseball is one of the longest, most taxing experiences for a baseball player. The physically demanding schedule challenges even the most talented athletes as they work their way up through the system. It can be difficult mentally for players to wait for call-ups and to be away from family and friends for extended periods of time.
“It’s a learning process, so it’s an adjustment,” Richard said. “We play every day, and it takes a lot out of us.”
After his 2007 season was cut short by injury, Getz is making the most of his health and his hot bat. He’s hitting 0.303 with eight home runs and 38 RBI for the Charlotte Knights at the season’s mid-point.
Richard was 6-0 with a 2.37 ERA for Charlotte, with opposing teams batting 0.181 against him. Before he was promoted to Triple-A, he was named the Southern League Pitcher of the Week for the Double-A Birmingham Barons on June 2.
Each accolade is significant for these players – anything can catch a scout’s eye. For Richard and Getz, the selections to the Futures Game assure them they’re being noticed. But until that phone call from the big leagues comes, the major league career is still a dream.
“It’s been a grind,” Getz said. “Each year is different. This year, I got off to a good start and put myself in a decent position in this organization. Hopefully, I’ll get a call-up pretty soon.”