Last Saturday night, the starting pitcher for the Auckland Tuatara fired 6.2 innings of one-run ball against the Sydney Blue Sox in a professional Australian Baseball League game.
A relief pitcher came in to end the threat in the seventh and then got the first two outs of the eighth, helping to keep the score tied 1-1 heading into the ninth. A win in Sydney against the first-place Blue Sox would be quite an upset – the Tuatara were in last place in the league, no surprise given that it was their inaugural season in the high level professional league that was founded in 2009.
The league is an interesting bit of Oceania trivia and a testament to the popularity and growth of America’s pastime, but why are we covering it in the North Shore News?
Because that starting pitcher and that reliever both hail from right here in North Vancouver. They’re at very different stages of their career, but they’ve united for at least one season on the other side of the world to help bring professional baseball to New Zealand and to continue chasing their own dreams.
That starter was 39-year-old Scott Richmond, a true baseball globetrotter who as a teenager paid the bills by scraping barnacles off boats at a North Vancouver shipyard during the day so that he could play ball at night. His strong right arm finally led him all the way to the Major Leagues with, who else, the Toronto Blues Jays.
The reliever was Brandon Marklund, a 23-year-old former North Shore Twins player in his first season of professional ball. The two pitchers combined for a pretty decent outing against the league leaders, but unfortunately the Blue Sox won it on a walk-off bases loaded suicide squeeze bunt in the bottom of the ninth.
That’s how it goes in the game, even when it’s played on the other side of the world.
“It’s beautiful down here, it’s sunny and we’re playing baseball,” Richmond said with a laugh when the North Shore News caught up with the two of them in a call to Sydney. “It’s not a tough life.”
For Marklund, the path to New Zealand was a relatively straight one, at least compared to Richmond’s Odyssey.
After graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas, Marklund spent four seasons with Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. He wrapped up his college career last May and played this summer with the Morehead City Marlins of the Coastal Plains League, dominating with a 0.52 ERA in 34.1 innings. When the season ended he was looking for a new place to play and heard through the baseball grapevine that a brand new team in New Zealand was looking for talent. With the Tuatara he’s established himself as their top reliever, putting up a 2.29 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP and 15 strikeouts in 19.2 innings.
“Brandon Marklund joined the Auckland Tuatara as a mystery package,” wrote a sports reporter in the New Zealand Herald, adding that he has now “established himself as one of the most dominant relievers in the Australian Baseball League.”
“The competition has been really good,” said Marklund. “It’s been a really cool opportunity to be able to face hitters that have seen AAA pitching, AA pitching, heck even Major League pitching. I always want to challenge myself and see where I stack up against these guys.”
Richmond arrived midseason, checking off another country on his incredible baseball passport. We don’t have enough space in this newspaper to detail all the places he’s played baseball, but he’s been all over North America, from Moose Jaw to Pawtucket to Round Rock, Texas.
He made his Major League debut in 2008 at age 28, and in 2009 pitched 138.2 innings with the Blue Jays, winning eight games that season. There were some gems in there too, like the day he racked up 11 strikeouts and gave up just five hits, one walk and one run in eight innings to pick up a win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
After pitching in the Majors Richmond took his game international, making a two-year stop in Taiwan and spending another season in Italy. A trip to New Zealand eventually became his destiny. Ryan Flynn, the CEO of New Zealand baseball and general manager of the Tuatara, discovered that Richmond’s father was born and raised in New Zealand – as far as Richmond knows, he’s the first player with first-generation New Zealand parentage in MLB history – and has been hounding Richmond to come south to play for the NZ national team ever since. Richmond won’t, however, pitch for the New Zealand national team, known as the Diamond Blacks – the one constant throughout his career has been a devotion to Team Canada, including the 2006 and 2017 World Baseball Classics and the 2015 Pan Am Games. But a pro team in New Zealand? Why not?
“(Flynn) kept mentioning how they were trying to get a professional team to put in the ABL,” said Richmond. “Once that came to fruition, I was interested and we just came off another stint in Italy. I was like, let’s chalk up another country, load the family up!”
That’s another thing Richmond has picked up along his travels: a family. Richmond and his wife Deanna, an Edmonton native, have three daughters, six-year-old twins Hailey and Sierra and three-year-old Juliet.
The baseball globetrotting has continued thanks in large part to the support of his family, said Richmond.
“(My wife) likes to travel too,” he said. “We have young girls and they’re still pretty mobile. We’ve been dragging them all over the world and they’re learning languages, getting enrolled in immersion schools and they’re getting life lessons as well.”
The family hasn’t made the trip down to New Zealand yet – home base is in Arizona – but Richmond has found some comforting Canadian content in Marklund. The two didn’t know each other before meeting in New Zealand but have bonded over shared backgrounds and hockey talk. Marklund has kept Richmond up-to-date on the excellence and injury scares of Elias Pettersson, the Vancouver Canucks young saviour.
“I was watching some highlights and I saw he went down in the Montreal game and I was messaging one of my good buddies freaking out,” said Marklund. “‘You watch the game? Are there any updates? Is he OK? What’s going on?’”
Playing alongside Marklund has kept him young and given him hope for the future of Canadian baseball, said Richmond, adding that he’ll make sure the young hurler is on the radar for the national team.
“To see the success Brandon has been having is really great for Canadian baseball,” he said. “There are a lot younger guys here, which is good for me too because they have a lot more passion, like Brandon. You get with the older crowd and you get a lot of complaining about their bodies and how they’re breaking down and all the travel. The young guys are just really excited.”
Richmond said he’ll keep going as long as he has that competitive fire. His goal now is to pitch for Canada in the 2020 Olympic Games. He was supposed to pitch in the 2012 Games but was still a Blue Jay at the time and the Big Leagues took precedence. Filling that void would be a great way to end an epic career – assuming that Richmond ever does actually hang up the cleats.
“I got a late start in all this, so I’m not a typical 39-year-old pitcher. I feel pretty good, I feel like I can still compete at a lot of levels,” he said. “Even for me, it’s always nice to go up against young, up-and-coming talent and see where I stack up. If they start pummelling me all over the park, it’s probably time to hang it up.”
He’s not there yet though – Richmond is 1-1 in his three starts with the Tuatara and at the end of the month will join Team Canada in Brazil for a Pan Am Games qualifier.
As for Marklund, he’ll have some pro tryouts this spring and has already lined up a summer gig with the Winnipeg Goldeyes who play in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
They don’t have much time left together in New Zealand, but Marklund is making the most of the happy coincidence that brought him together with Richmond.
“I don’t want to annoy him too much with 1,000 questions but I’ve just been picking his brain when I can,” he said. “Preparation, pitching in general, seeing how he warms up before a start, the way he does his pre-game – all that stuff. Anything I can learn to make me a better pitcher, I’m always open to learning and sharpening my craft.”