by ANTOAN RICHARDSON
Nineteen years ago I left The Bahamas with one goal in mind, to get a college education. Even though I left on a sports scholarship for high school in the United States, I placed boundaries on what baseball could do for me. I didn’t understand the role it would play in my life. And yet, several years later I also earned a college scholarship and got drafted on four separate occasions. I finally signed with the San Francisco Giants to start my career as a professional baseball player, and with that I travelled the world.
A baseball career was not a childhood ambition. I was generally interested in sports, but my dream was to graduate from St Anne’s High School, become a police officer and get married. I have a childhood friend, Brian Armbrister, who would call my house every Saturday and hound my mother to let me join him at Freedom Farm. I credit his relentlessness to getting me started on this journey. At Freedom Farm, a chance encounter with a scout gave me the opportunity to be recruited to American Heritage, a high school in Delray Beach Florida. Under the insistence of my aunt, Rogann Huyler-Forbes, I left The Bahamas to pursue this educational opportunity.
Today I know that with baseball and sports in general, the boundaries are limitless. I don’t think any of us can underestimate or undervalue where sports can take young people in our country.
So many people have supported me on this journey. Some have expressed how much it meant to them to see me represent The Bahamas and reach so high in my career. Today I wish to share with those supporters and all of my friends, family and well wishers that I am retiring from professional baseball.
Baseball has been so good to me over the years. I am grateful for all of the opportunities. Today, I have decided the time is right to leave the road and return home to directly invest in the young people of our country. Simply put, I have grown to be more passionate about giving back to the community and being an uplifting force in the lives of young people pursuing their dreams. I will have more to share soon about the launch of the Limestone Foundation, an organization I created to improve opportunities available to student athletes and to maximize their talents in the classroom as well as in their respective sporting disciplines.
When I made my major league debut in 2011 with the Atlanta Braves, I became the sixth Bahamian ever to accomplish this feat. Baseball has been around for over 100 years. There have been about 20,000 people to ever play in the major leagues. So to be one of six from a country like The Bahamas is something I am very proud of, especially given the hand that I was dealt to get there. When I was born in 1983 there were no Bahamians playing major league baseball. The sport had taken a backseat in the country, so playing in the majors was not even in the realm of possibility for me. And yet, the next Bahamian to play in the major leagues was in fact me.
It has been a privilege and a blessing to be a pioneer of my time, following in the footsteps of some great Bahamians, like Wilfred “Suggie” Culmer, who came immediately before me; Andre Rodgers, who started it all; and those that came in between, Tony Curry, Wenty Ford and Ed Armbrister.
Today, 19 years after leaving The Bahamas, it makes me proud to see that baseball has experienced a resurgence in The Bahamas. When I started as a child there were about four baseball teams in the Freedom Farm Baseball League. Today there are more than 30 teams. Even the leagues across the Family Islands have strengthened. On my recent visit to the Eleuthera Junior Baseball League of Rock Sound it was so good to see the massive improvements to the baseball diamond and the growth in the league. I saw myself in the children and felt so proud and encouraged to know they are supported by people who care and are willing to invest in their dreams. At the same time, I know there is much more work to be done and all hands on deck are needed.
I really want to take this opportunity to say thank you. I could not have walked this incredible journey without the support of the community. It was so important to always hear encouraging words and to see familiar faces in the stands, especially when I was working my way through the minor leagues. The minors are such a difficult part of making it to the majors. It is where many athletes are weeded out. So it’s extra special for someone to support you when you are doing the dirty work. Someone who sticks out to me is Jeff “Sangie” Francis. He would drive all across America in all types of weather to see me play. Seeing people like Jeff always brought a smile to my face. There is no feeling like a familiar face in the middle of a long season.
And my family was always my safety blanket. No matter how bad things got, no matter how much I would think I was at the end of my rope, the fact that I knew I had a family back home that loved me, it always allowed me to play freely.
I can remember my first full season after signing my professional contract; my batting average was the worst in the league. This was my first full year and I thought, how am I ever going to make it to the majors if I can’t hit at the lowest level of competition? My mom, Glendia Huyler, and my aunt completely turned my career around. After an innocent phone call, they knew from the sound of my voice that I needed support. It wasn’t easy to find the money, but they flew to Augusta, Georgia to see me. Their support alone strengthened me; I went on a hitting streak for about 30 games. Just from a simple hello, I finished the year ranked among the top 10 in stolen bases, runs, and batting averages.
So with all of that being said I would like to say thank you: to my friends and family, especially my mother for never giving up on me; my coaches and mentors; and my fans and well wishers. I would like to invite everyone to a Thank You Party on the evening of Saturday, April 8. This event is for the adults, but I will also be having a dedicated activity for the children. Persons interested in attending are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org by March 24 for an official invite with further details.
I can’t overstate how important it was to see the young people coming behind me; they were a main source of inspiration. I never wanted to give them an excuse to give up on their dreams, so I always felt a sense of responsibility to keep going. Even though they may never fully understand their importance to my journey, I want to say a big thank you to the youth, and let them know directly, my next move is about you. Stay tuned.