Bill Richardson: CoachingFrom the CAL to the SAL and ESPN Between
In a new ESPN commercial, former Sacramento high school coach
Bill Richardson is seen playing himself, the
skipper of the Hickory Crawdads. Richardson appears so fleetingly—coaching third base—trying to
match wits with Charleston RiverDogs manager, Greg Colbrunn. Both managers
flash a flurry of signs, resulting in a failed pickoff play at second base. The commercial
tagline reads: "It's Not Crazy. It's Sports."
The spot "Sign Language" began airing this week on ESPN during
the MLB Home Run Derby competition. (You can view the video at the end of this
For years ESPN has cast its own recognizable staff in its
on-air promotions. This time, they used two teams from the South Atlantic League (SAL) and
filmed at the RiverDogs home ballpark in Charleston, nicknamed "The Joe."The team's principal owner is
Michael Veeck, son of legendary baseball promoter, Bill Veeck.
Comedian/actor Bill Murray is a co-owner, who owns the title "Director of
When Richardson reported to "the set" at 6 a.m. that day he had
no idea what he was getting in to when he agreed to play the opposing manager in the commercial.
He was awestruck by the multi-million dollar cameras, dolly tracking and cranes swooping in from
the outfield to give the commercial its high production value. Back in Hickory, North Carolina,
when members of the Crawdads are invited to film a commercial, it usually comes from a local car
company or the Piggly Wiggly.
In the commercial, the RiverDogs' manager flashes signs to
the catcher, who signals the pitcher to wheel and try to pick off Crawdads' base runner, Joe
Bonadonna, who slides safely into
second. Shooting ended around 6 p.m. just
in time for the game scheduled that night atJoseph P. Riley, Jr. Park,
which sits on the banks of the
scenicAshley River in beautiful, historic Charleston, the belle of
For his efforts, Richardson was compensated $500; not bad
for a day's work. He gave $100 to Bonadonna, who had to dive headfirst
back to second about 30 times to avert the pickoff play. Nice of the skipper to share the loot
with the starving Single-A ballplayer. "The ESPN crew were fantastic to work with and we feel it
turned out pretty well," said Dave Echols,
RiverDogs' Executive Vice President and General Manager."Bill and his crew were easy to work with as well.
was a long day and they
could easily have complained."
Anyone who recalls Richardson from his days coaching
high school baseball in Sacramento's Capital Athletic League* will tell you Bill's not one to
complain. In fact, his reputation for developing talented young ballplayers into men with character
earned him the plum coaching job in the Texas Rangers organization.
In 2007, while coaching the Bella Vista baseball team, a
scout from the Rangers approached Richardson about working as a hitting instructor for the team's
Arizona League entry. The scout was Jay Robertson, father of Bronco's star player Charlie
Robertson, who twice made the Bee's All-City team (2007 & 2008). Richardson agreed to the
Once there, Bill noticed two former major league ballplayers waiting their
turn. During the meeting, he was direct. "Obviously, you're looking to give these rookies some
direction. Nobody knows young men better than I do. If you want to give these kids a shot, you'll
choose me." His honesty and fresh approach won him the job.
At the conclusion of the AZL season, the Rangers Scott
Servais, Senior Director of Player Development, asked Richardson if he'd like to manage
the team in 2008. Bill said he'd love to, but had already made a commitment to the returning
players at Bella Vista.
"Let me get this
straight," Richardson remembers Servais saying to him. "You're gonna pass up an opportunity to
manage in pro ball for high school?"
"That's not what I'm saying," Richardson explained. "I made a
commitment to some young men." Servais appreciated Richardson's personal integrity and made
arrangements for him manage the AZL team when the season began the following June.
Over the 2008-2009 seasons, Richardson compiled a 59-53 record in the Rookie
This season he was rewarded with a promotion and given a choice:
Bakersfield in the California League or Hickory, NC in the South Atlantic League. "I've never
been to the South, and I really wanted to try the (Southern) experience. I've enjoyed it
immensely," Richardson remarks. "It's nice to have someone call me 'sir' for a change instead of
Along with Southern courtesy, in Hickory Richardson has
been exposed to Veeck-style minor league promotions, such asThirsty Thursdays and Friday
Night Fireworks. Although his primary goal is player development,the 'Dads are playing above .500 for their new skipper,
with a 50-41 markas of this writing
Asked to compare the experience of managing in the pros versus
high school, Richardson says he was surprised that "the pro game is so different by letting men
fail, to learn the hard way. You put them in positions that challenge them, to get knocked down
a bit, and see how they get back up."
Another key difference is the handling of the catchers. In high
school and college, Richardson notes, "the coach calls the pitches, in hopes (the catcher) will
comprehend how to call the game." In pro ball, the coaching staff knows the hitters a lot better
and shares this information with the catchers in a meeting before the game. At this level, the
biggest thing for catchers is to incorporate the staff's advance scouting input and then "trust
what they see (during the game)," Richardson explains.
Except, of course, when the manager is having an apoplectic fit,
flashing signs to "pick off the runner at second," as in the ESPN commercial.
It's not crazy; it's baseball in the SAL, and Bill Richardson is
coached at San Juan High (1982-1990), Del Campo High (1996-2002) and Bella Vista High
ESPN -- It's not crazy, it's sports -- Sign