When IU Coach Jeff Mercer called freshman outfielder Grant Richardson to the front of the bus before Wednesday’s contest against the University of Cincinnati, Richardson was surprised to learn he was starting.
Before that game, Richardson never had a collegiate at-bat. However, absences from sophomore outfielder Elijah Dunham and senior outfielder Logan Kaletha forced Mercer to head deeper into his depth chart.
Richardson got the call and made the most of his opportunity in a midweek game against Cincinnati and in a four-game weekend series against Canisius College.
“I just went out and did what I always do by playing the game and being myself,” Richardson said.
He wasted no time in his collegiate debut, driving in a run on a ground out to the pitcher during the first inning against Cincinnati. Richardson followed that up with a double to right field in the eighth inning.
On Friday, he topped his first outing going 3-for-6 with three runs batted in, including his first collegiate home run.
“That double in the eighth inning against Cincinnati, I was pretty pumped about that,” Richardson said. “First career hit and all, a great experience.”
Richardson was a well-known recruit coming into the IU program after a solid prep career in Indiana. He was ranked as the eighth-best player in Indiana in the class of 2018 by Prep Baseball Report and won a state title with Fishers High School last June.
Mercer watched Richardson carefully throughout the fall and into spring practice. With a loaded outfield led by junior Matt Gorski, Kaletha and Dunham, there were no guaranteed at-bats for Richardson.
However, the freshman's composure and work ethic stuck in the back of Mercer’s mind.
“We wanted to be patient with Grant and pick our spots,” Mercer said. “He’s a great young man and he’s extremely talented, but he’s worked very, very hard. When you have a guy that listens and he’s coachable, and works like he does, I just got to a point where I felt like he could play significant time.
The veteran presence in the outfield helped Richardson shape daily routines when it came to practice. Whether it was in the field or in the batting cage, he learned the ins and outs of putting in maximum effort in every aspect of practice.
“Over the first four weeks of taking batting practice, I would base myself off of how they would shag balls and how they would approach games,” Richardson said. “I worked my tail off.”
Richardson said his mindset never changed even when going the first 14 games of the season without an at-bat.
“From the get go, even with Kaletha and Dunham in, I worked every day to be a starter,” Richardson said. “When they went out, I worked the same, and I’m just blessed to start and get into the lineup.”
Mercer understands there will be a learning curve with Richardson. He’ll make mistakes like all freshmen, and even all seniors do. But the way he composes himself and approaches the game of baseball gives Mercer a level of optimism for the potential Richardson can bring this program.
“He comes into work and asks questions,” Mercer said. “He’ll continue to grow and get better because he’s humble, he’s all about helping the team and works very hard. He will be a good player for us for a very long time.”
His 7-for-19, one home run, two double and six runs batted in stat line is just a small sample of the numbers he’ll put up in his time at IU. However, he said he realizes that this isn’t a bad place to start.
“It boosts my confidence a lot to know I can put up those stat lines,” Richardson said. “Going forward, you can’t look at the stats you just got to go out and play like you usually would.”