Young Jackson thrower is eerily reminiscent of 'Wild Thing'
Alex Wallner ~ Standard-Democrat
In the infamous 1989 baseball movie “Major League,” Cleveland Indian relief pitcher, Ricky Vaughn, was often mocked because of his ‘Mohawk’ haircut and propensity to be a tad erratic when throwing his blazing fastball.
“Wild Thing,” he was referred to and serenaded with when entering the old Cleveland Stadium.
Sure, some laughed at the young character, but it is important to remember when the Indians needed to win the championship, who did Cleveland manager Lou Brown turn to in the final inning?
Two-decade-plus Jackson Tribe manager Mark Lewis most certainly doesn’t utilize the same gruff manner and vulgarities in running his team that Brown did with the “other” Indians, but just like Brown did, Lewis knows who he can pencil in as his pitcher to win games.
Tribe thrower Will Richardson sports an eye-catching hairstyle – like Vaughn – with Richardson’s being a lengthy mane that flows out of the back of his black ball cap.
The Jackson High School junior-to-be has an emotional metronome that swings between calm and angry depending on the umpire’s call – like Vaughn.
He has just enough of an erratic nature to his pitching to make hitters – and Lewis – a tad unnerved – like Vaughn.
And Richardson brings the heat that can make the opposition look silly – like Vaughn.
“He’s got a live arm,” Lewis said after watching Richardson work nearly six innings against an unbeaten Charleston Fighting Squirrel team at Jackson Stadium recently.
That he does.
After allowing a leadoff single into right field to open the game, Richardson made a great move to first and got Justin Moses caught on a steal attempt.
He stuck out looking Saint Louis recruit and Sikeston stud Payton Howard on three consecutive pitches, which was followed up by him hitting Southeast Missouri State recruit Hunter Hiett in the thigh.
That was then followed by Richardson striking out another Redhawk prospect, Anthony Klein, on three straight pitches, the last being a failed swing by Klein.
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Just a typical inning for Vaughn, er, Richardson.
“He’s still a young puppy who is trying to work with his stuff,” Lewis said. “But he likes to throw the baseball.”
Richardson has just one season of high school baseball under his belt, yet was dominant - at times - against a Charleston squad that is filled with college-level talent.
He answered that opening inning with three strikeouts in the second inning, but those were mixed in with a pair of wild pitches and a walk. And in his final full inning of work, the fifth, he struck out the side.
“When he gets his curveball working,” Lewis said, “and his change-up is good… he is still kind of learning.”
As he should be.
As a freshman, he earned second-team All-SEMO Conference honors as a reliever and was going to be one of Jackson’s top throwers this spring before the MSHSAA pulled the plug on spring sports in wake of the global pandemic.
That loss of work was devastating to an emerging talent like Richardson, who needs innings to mature.
“I’m heavy on the fastball,” Richardson explained of his strategy. “I throw hard and try to get them elevated so (the hitters) swing and miss.”
As Lewis noted, Richardson can also throw a curve, but he is “developing” his change-up, which he only threw once against the Squirrels.
Richardson ultimately struck out 11 Charleston hitters and allowed just four hits and one earned run in 5 2/3 innings against a team that averages nine runs per game. However, by watching Richardson, you wouldn’t have realized he was having that much success.
He threw 98 pitches on the night, but only 64 were called for strikes, a number that the youngster visibly disagreed with at times.
“I’m a big competitor,” Richardson said. “If something doesn’t go my way, I’ll get frustrated and come back and try to one-up it. That’s how I am.”
He didn’t get the opportunity to grow in games this spring, but he has tried to study and listen to Major League arms such as Washington National star Max Scherzer and St. Louis young phenom Jack Flaherty.
“I like Max’s game a lot,” Richardson said.
The Tribe hadn’t lost a game until this week when the Squirrels swept them in a double-header.
Lewis said his team, like Richardson, will continue to be a work in progress throughout this summer, as all of his players seek to make up for the lost time.
“It’s sad that we didn’t get to have a spring,” Lewis said. “It’s early, so we are trying to watch pitch counts. That was Richardson’s third or fourth outing, so he stretched out a little bit.
“But he did a good job.”
“Wild Thing” always did.