by Steve Mims
Tommy Richards has improvement in mind during his second season coaching the Springfield Drifters.
“We have to finish strong, last year we didn’t,” Richards said. “The emphasis is on one day at a time, every day give the best effort, but we want to finish strong. Last year it seemed like we got tired and grinded down a bit. I think we felt it more than the rest of the teams in the league. So our emphasis is on development, controlling what we can control and finishing the job, whether it be for the day ahead or the season as a whole. Some things jumped up and got us last year so we need to make the adjustment and do the work.”
The Drifters lost 11 of their last 12 to wrap up their inaugural season in the West Coast League at 17-37.
Richards and Director of Player Personnel Kenny Niles went about improving the roster in the second season by loading up on Division I talent. Springfield’s 41-man roster features 26 players from Division I schools.
“I am really excited about the roster,” Richards said. “I think it is a clear step forward as far as the guys we are bringing in so I am excited to go to work with them. This is a different caliber of player so I am excited to go to work with them.”
Richards has a deep history in the WCL as his parents, Jim and Mary Ann, owned the Bend Elks for many years. Tommy played two seasons for the Elks, helping Bend to the playoffs in 2009 before being named most valuable player while winning the batting title with a .364 average in 2010.
The Drifters open the 57-game season at Hamlin Field on June 2 against Port Angeles. Tickets are on sale now for all 30 home games.
“I definitely believe that we have everything we need to be successful,” Richards said. “The roster is a big part of that and the stadium and locker rooms. It is a different feel than last year.”
Springfield loaded up with local talent this year including University of Oregon outfielder Bryce Boettcher and four incoming freshmen for the Ducks. Catcher Isaiah Burke, a Thurston graduate, heads the list of OSU players including junior-college transfer Bridger Holmes, a pitcher from North Bend, and infielder Dawson Santana of Lakeridge High School.
Former area prep stars on the team include Lewis & Clark State first baseman Charlie Updegrave from Oakridge and Linfield pitcher John Over from Marist. Marist’s Cooper Mullens, an infielder who has signed to play at Michigan, is also on the roster.
Steyr Brinkley of Lane Community College will stay close to home this summer to pitch for the Drifters while pitcher/outfielder Andy Miller is transferring to LCC next year.
“I am excited about that and that’s the way it should be because there are a lot of good players around here,” said Richards, who grew up in Bend before playing at Washington State. “In year one, we had to earn it and prove who we are in order to get better players. We had to do the work and show our processes are good and I think we are reaping some of the rewards of that by getting local guys, keeping them here. I am excited to work with them.”
In addition to being the first coach of the Drifters, Richards took over as coach of the start-up Bushnell baseball program last year. He just completed his second season with the Beacons at 23-25 before preparing for the summer season in Springfield.
His assistants with the Drifters are Bushnell assistant Jordan Sunitsch and pitching coach Alan Embree, a Northwest native who spent 16 years pitching in the majors.
“When you finish the season like we did at Bushnell, there is frustration and there is a lot of work to be done, so we are getting right to it in recruiting,” he said. “Alan and I will chop it up and make some decisions and figure out what we need to do with the Drifters. There is never a dull moment.”
The same can be said at home where Richards and his wife, Jessica, just had their third child. All three of the Richards boys – six-year old Hank, three-year old George, and month-old Lou – will be regulars at Hamlin Field this summer cheering on their dad as he looks to turn the Drifters into a title contender