It was about 11:30 in the morning, on a Saturday, when the call came in. I'd finally exchanged phone numbers with Richard a few weeks earlier and knew it was all in anticipation of him working the color commentary of a RoughRiders' TV game. He'd done it a couple times before, but wanted a brief refresher on the current squad. "Hey man, you got a minute? I've got a few questions." Absolutely, I had a minute. I had many of them. Only seconds before the phone rang, I'd yanked on my grungiest not-suitable-for-public jeans and pulled on my oldest boots for an afternoon of yard work. I'm not one who finds intrinsic pleasure in manual labor. I get it done, generally without fuss, but it sucks. Did I have a "minute" to talk ball rather than begin my inevitable descent into a boxer's sweat? Hell yes. And so he peppered me with questions about the squad; who was hot, what does this guy throw, what's that guy's weakness, what's his personality like? And so on, and so on. The best part? Richard already knew the answers. He was just looking for confirmation of things he'd found on-line, or heard from other sources; this was information he was essentially double-checking. He was far more prepared than I thought he'd be, and probably more prepared than he was giving himself credit for. A good reporter knows his subject matter, and a great reporter knows it so well he begins to wonder whether he knows it at all. Richard was a great reporter.
One of the nuances of covering minor league baseball is accepting it's imperfections. If you go to a minor league game expecting major league quality, you're in for a disappointment... and you have only yourself to blame. Richard never had that mindset. He always came to Dr. Pepper Park understanding that he'd see a lower quality of overall play than what he was used to, but if he looked carefully, and paid attention, he'd see glimpses of future greatness. Not every member of the traditional media comes to the AA field with that mindset. Richard did. He wanted to see the glimpses and when he did, or he thought he did, his excitement and desire to share was so genuine and so sincere, it was infectious. And far more often than not, he was right. He understood the game, on a deep level. If you would've asked him, I bet he would have told you he doesn't see what scouts see, or something like that, but I'm here to tell you he had a good eye. Richard saw the glimpses, and I believe he enjoyed his experience at the minor league fields all the more because of them. He got excited when Jurickson Profar worked the count full from 0-2, Luke Jackson retired a hitter with an offspeed pitch, or Mike Olt hit the ball the other way. I've tried to explain this to other writers before, but usually to no avail. I think you either enjoy the game on that level, or you don't. It can't be taught. I think it comes from a place of joy. Truly. It takes a uniquely wired person to come to a AA game after spending every summer night watching big leaguers, see 3 errors, two balks, a hit batter, 9 or 10 runs, poor routes, missed signs, missed cutoff men, missed connections, and missed opportunities...and still leave the park saying "you see Roogie's double on that slider in the 6th?"
Speaking of Roogie, that's where this all sort of ends. Not for Roogie Odor, he's got a bright future, but for me and Richard. I saw Richard last week as he and a wheelbarrow of real writers dropped in on Frisco to chronicle the arrival of Joey Gallo. Before Gallo did what Gallo does, Richard was teasing me about my affection for the little Venezuelan second baseman. That was always fair game for us. I liked Roogie, and Richard knew it. Any recent slick move in the field, hard hit ball, or the occasional long ball from Odor was sure to elicit a quick quip via text message or Twitter from Richard, informing me that my little buddy had done something good at the big league level. Richard knew I loved those glimpses too. And tonight as I was driving home, already gutted, the great Eric Nadel went to the airwaves to confirm Richard's passing. Then Roogie hit a home run. No shit. An 0-0 count, he sat fastball, got one, and popped it over the right field fence. Against the hated A's, no less! Driving in my darkened truck, I glanced down at the nook in the dash where I keep my phone. It stayed dark, both the nook, and the phone. No text message, no alert.
I'm going to miss my friend and yours, Richard Durrett. I'm going to miss seeing him at Dr. Pepper Park. I'm going to miss the texts and the tweets. The amazing part is that I'm just a guy with a channel to articulate what he meant to me. There's hundreds of folks who can't blog or write or broadcast what he meant to them. I'm simply a guy who crossed paths with him, and with whom he made a connection. There's hundreds of us. Thousands of us. People truly and genuinely loved having Richard in their lives. He loved his family, he loved his job, he loved people, and he loved baseball. And that's a lot of love.
My deepest and most sincere condolences to his amazing wife and fantastic children.
Rest in peace Richard Durrett.
We'll miss you.