Giants

How Antoan Richardson's journey to Giants' staff showed his perseverance

How Antoan Richardson's journey to Giants' staff showed his perseverance

Antoan Richardson was drafted by the Giants in 2005, spent five seasons in the organization as a prospect, and returned last year to be a minor league instructor. But he still will be a fresh face to nearly all of the players when he walks into the clubhouse next month.

It helps to come into that situation with some background in the majors, and Richardson will enter every conversation with two pretty cool highlights in his back pocket.

A speedy outfielder who reached the big leagues with the Braves and Yankees, Richardson notched his first career hit when he poked a single to right off Clayton Kershaw. In one of his final big league games, Richardson raced home from second, beating a strong throw from Baltimore's Nick Markakis to give Derek Jeter a walk-off single in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium.

Those highlights are nice conversation starters, but what really will stand out as the Giants get to know their new first base coach is a trait that has defined his career: Perseverance. 

Those career highlights came three years apart, as Richardson got four at-bats for the Braves in 2011 as a 27-year-old and then bounced around Double-A and Triple-A before the Yankees called him up in September of 2014. For Richardson, there was never any doubt that he would keep going through those lean years. 

"I come from the Bahamas, it's a small country and I think a lot of my motivation is the people of the Bahamas and recognizing that when you take on a responsibility like this, a responsibility to get to the Major Leagues, there are people that put you in the spotlight," Richardson said last week. "I think continuing to not give up and continuing to pursue things and inspire others and be inspired by others is what kept me going and it's continued to keep me going."

Richardson was beating the odds long before he slid headfirst across the plate as Yankee Stadium erupted. He signed with the Giants as a 35th round pick out of Vanderbilt and was one of just seven players from that class (highlighted by Sergio Romo) to ever suit up in the big leagues. Years before that, Richardson kept pushing after he was cut from his seventh-grade fast-pitch softball team in the Bahamas. 

"You know what it is? It's life, right?" Richardson said, laughing. "Life is going to throw you so many challenges and some of them aren't going to be fun, but you've got to keep going.

"I always tell the story of the buffalo. The buffalo, whenever a storm comes, the buffalo knows that at some point he's going to be on the other side of it. So that's kind of the way I look at it. Whenever the storm comes, keep walking. It feels like forever but at some point you'll be on the other end of it."

Richardson, 36, was one of the last additions to a young staff that will try to lead the Giants out of their current storm. He finished his career in Triple-A with the Dodgers at a time when Farhan Zaidi was the team's general manager and Gabe Kapler was the director of player development, but he didn't know them personally until he met with Kapler at the Winter Meetings last month. Richardson was there to speak at an MLB diversity event.

Less than a month later, the Giants announced that he would be their new first base coach

Kapler said Richardson stood out during the interview process for being thoughtful, introspective and good at self-evaluation.  

“As I was going through my own interview process, I reconnected with Antoan and learned how impactful he is at creating and building a culture dedicated to open communication,” Kapler said. “He brings energy, enthusiasm and excitement to the clubhouse. He’s inquisitive and asks why.

"What 'AR' doesn’t already know about outfield play and baserunning, he’ll go find out. Baserunning is going to be a major point of emphasis for us this year, and Antoan will help everyone on the team improve.”

Richardson’s rise, like so many on this current staff, was meteoric. He was an outfield coordinator in the minors for the Toronto Blue Jays but came back to the Giants last offseason to be a field coordinator for their farm system. He roved throughout the system, overseeing on-field instruction, baserunning, outfield and infield work everywhere from the team's facility in the Dominican Republic to Triple-A Sacramento.

[RELATED: Why Giants' hitting coach compares rebuild to 49ers' rise]

While Richardson is somewhat familiar to many of the team's prospects, he has just one day of experience with the current big leaguers. When previous first base coach Jose Alguacil attended his son’s graduation in June, Richardson was called up to do the job for a day.

He had walked past Oracle Park as a prospect and marveled at the size and look of the place. When Richardson joined Bruce Bochy’s staff for a day, he didn’t take it for granted. Richardson spent some time talking to fellow Vanderbilt alums Tyler Beede and Mike Yastrzemski and then got to work trying to find something that would give the Giants an edge that day. 

The cameo ended up being a preview of a major career move. 

“That was a really cool day,” Richardson said. “I remember Pablo (Sandoval) hit a home run and almost hit my hand off my body when he was coming around first base. And then we won the game, right, so I got to give a high five at the end of that, so that was cool.”

Why the Giants will use an in-game interpreter for native Spanish speakers

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Why the Giants will use an in-game interpreter for native Spanish speakers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Picture this scenario. The Giants have a one-run lead in the seventh inning at Oracle Park, with a young reliever trying to strand a runner on second and two outs. He came to the United States when he was 17, and while his English has improved, he still is not close to being fluent.

In a huge spot, with 30,000 people staring down at him, the pitcher is trying to communicate his pitch preference in a language he has not yet mastered, to a catcher and a manager who can chat with him but did not grow up speaking the same language. 

The Gabe Kapler Era has thus far been dominated by curiosity, by a desire to find a different and more efficient way to do things. As Kapler sits around with his 13-person coaching staff, the question is often a simple one.

Is there a better way to do this?

During one meeting, Kapler and bench coach Kai Correa asked quality assurance coach Nick Ortiz if there was a better way to communicate with Spanish-speaking pitchers during games. The Giants asked for and received permission to have Ortiz in the dugout as an in-game interpreter. He will not replace one of the seven coaches allowed in the dugout per MLB rules, but he will be more visible than most of them.

Every time Kapler or pitching coach Andrew Bailey goes out to the mound to speak to a pitcher whose first language was Spanish, Ortiz will come along as an interpreter. 

"It's something that definitely will make an impact," Ortiz said. "Every time you try to bring information to someone, you want to make sure they have a 100 percent understanding of what you're trying to do."

Once you hear the idea, you wonder why teams haven't always done it this way. When an organization signs a veteran from Japan or South Korea, he always gets his own interpreter, someone to walk to the mound with the manager and help with communication. But for some reason, teams have not done that with Spanish-speaking players. 

The new-look Giants asked a simple question: Why? Why are we putting these players at a disadvantage?

"It feels really intuitive, because there are so many nuances in those conversations on the mound, between a pitching coach and a pitcher, and to some degree when you're taking a pitcher out of the game as a manager," Kapler said. "You really want to send a concise message and you want not just the words to be translated, but the intent of those words to be communicated effectively. When the adrenaline is running high, I think it's easier to digest when something is shared with you in your native language. It does feel really intuitive and like something that we really want to experiment with."

It wasn't until 2016 that MLB required every team to have full-time Spanish language interpreters. The Giants use Erwin Higueros, a member of the organization's broadcast team and PR staff for interviews, but he is not in the dugout or clubhouse during games. Before that, in a sport where many of the biggest stars come from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, players often had to speak to reporters and coaches through teammates who were fluent, or close, in both languages. Gregor Blanco helped plenty of young Giants over the years, but sometimes it was someone like Emmanuel Burriss, who spoke good Spanish. 

Kapler said he thought about trying this in Philadelphia, but the staff there never felt like the situation was quite right. He has hired a young group that is focused on being open-minded and trying new things in San Francisco. When the Giants announced most of their staff at the Winter Meetings, Kapler said one of the final remaining hires would be a native Spanish speaker. The Giants hired Ortiz, a 46-year-old who spent 15 seasons in the minor leagues and 16 offseasons in the Puerto Rican Winter League, in January. Ortiz was born in Puerto Rico. 

"He's got a really good way about him and a delivery that makes you want to listen," Kapler said. "It just felt like the right combination at the right time."

The Giants will start using Ortiz as an in-game interpreter this spring to help players get comfortable. They plan to use Ortiz for every native Spanish speaker, including Johnny Cueto, who speaks English well but still prefers to use Higueros as an interpreter for interviews. The staff also wants the catchers to get used to the transition.

"I'm sure there were certainly times where I've been out there and thought I was communicating better than I was," catcher Buster Posey said. "This'll button up the communication."

[RELATED: Giants' Moronta set to take big step after gruesome injury]

The hope is that this catches on and becomes part of the norm. On the 40-man roster alone, the Giants have eight pitchers who were born outside of the United States, and for the first time, their player-specific spring training workout plans and goals were handed to them in Spanish. 

Kapler wants this to give the native Spanish speakers a little more help during games. He speaks Spanish himself, but he said there were times in the past when he would have said more to a pitcher on the mound had an interpreter been there. 

"I would have expanded on a thought and had the ability to influence the conversation differently had I had a native Spanish speaker with me," he said. "There's a huge investment, on my part personally but also with our coaching staff, to have our native Spanish speakers feel like they're on equal footing as our native English speakers. I just care deeply about that."

Giants' Reyes Moronta set to take big step in rehab from gruesome injury

Giants' Reyes Moronta set to take big step in rehab from gruesome injury

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Gabe Kapler gathered the 71 Giants players, 13 coaches and the rest of the support staff at Scottsdale Stadium on Monday morning, it should have been the official start of the biggest spring of Reyes Moronta's career. 

Moronta likely would have entered the spring as a favorite to become Kapler's closer, but he suffered a devastating shoulder injury at the end of August and had surgery on September 10 to repair his labrum. Moronta will spend the whole spring and most of the season rehabbing, but the first full workout day still was an important one for Moronta.

He was set to play catch Monday for the first time since getting hurt. 

"It's a big day," Moronta said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "Since I got hurt, I've been waiting for this day."

It's a small step, but an important one for a player who is expected to be out until August. The Giants will be careful with Moronta, who holds an interesting spot on the roster. In a camp where Kapler wants every young pitcher to get stretched out, Moronta is one of the few true relievers with big league experience for the Giants.

The Giants plan to be creative this spring, and pitchers are preparing for the possibility that four of five with starting experience might end up in the bullpen going two or three innings an outing. Kapler has been hesitant to hand out specific roles, but the Giants do figure to lock Tony Watson into the late innings somewhere.

After that, there are a lot of question marks, and long term, Moronta still profiles as a closer or setup man. Before the injury, he ranked in the top 20 among NL relievers in batting average allowed (.197) and opponents' slugging percentage (.298). 

A big step will be taken Monday, but Moronta knows he won't fully mentally clear all the hurdles until he gets back on a big league mound. His injury was awful to watch, and it's the type that often lingers when a player starts ramping it up. He said the pain matched the scene, but he didn't realize how much damage had been done to his throwing shoulder until later.

"It was awful pain," he said. "But I feel good now."

[RELATED: How Giants plan to build on submariner Rogers' 2019 debut]

For now, the focus is on getting healthy. Moronta spent his offseason in Scottsdale to focus on rehab, taking a short break to get married. It's a goal for him to follow Johnny Cueto's lead and get back late in the year, if only for a few appearances. 

"It's very important for me and for the team and for my family," he said. "It's important for me to at least pitch a month or so and know that I'm healthy."