Until Monday, June 9th, I only knew Richard Durrett through his excellent writing on ESPN.com. I appreciated his style, his eloquence, his ability to cover nearly anything, and had been introduced to him once before at a Frisco RoughRiders game, a brief encounter that left only the impression that he was funny and knowledgeable.
When Joey Gallo was promoted to Frisco earlier this month, I knew it would be a media madhouse during the first batting practice he took. The team usually starts coming out to stretch and prepare for BP around 3 p.m. and that’s usually the earliest you’ll find any media at the park. That day, I managed to pull into the parking lot at 2:57 p.m., confident I’d beaten the beat writers to the ballpark, just to see Richard Durrett pulling his gear out of his trunk, the earliest to get there.
I’m very aware of the fact that I’m just starting out in this sports writing business, and I never expect anyone to know who I am or what I write about. Though I’d been introduced to Durrett before, I wasn’t expecting him to turn to me as I was setting my computer up in the auxiliary press box and ask me “So, what do you think of Joey Gallo?” Not only did he know who I wrote for, and what I wrote, but he listened to what I had to say (as I rambled about walk rates and bat-to-ball skills), and wanted to know more about other top prospects.
That kind of treatment, that kind of acknowledgement – that’s the kind of thing that can’t really be put into words. As a young writer, especially a young female writer, that kind of respect isn’t easily forthcoming, except from Richard Durrett.
During the game, Durrett came down and spent an inning sitting next to me, continuing to pick my brain about Frisco and the prospects (and slightly less-than-prospects) that fill the roster. He was funny and engaging and I wish I could remember every word of the conversation, but the exact words are not the important thing here. Even though I’ve been writing baseball professionally for less than a year, even though in so many ways I have so far to go, he thought I had something valuable to say. He treated me as a colleague, rather than ignoring the small-time new person. That kind of person, that kind of human being, that kind of professional, those words are backed up by every single thing I’ve read since yesterday’s evening horrific news.
Though I only had the one real day of interaction, my personal memory of Richard Durrett will be this: It’s the bottom of the ninth in Frisco. A scout and I are joking that Gallo needs two men to get on base to hit, and Durrett is sitting a row above, egging us on. The improbable happens, and there are runners at first and second as the young slugger lumbers to the plate. I, or someone around us, says something like, “Wouldn’t it be perfect if Gallo walked this off?” Two taken balls later, the Midland pitcher throws something not quite in the strike zone, and Gallo reaches out his hands and pops it into the night sky, seemingly 8,000 feet high, and a definite 410 feet from home plate. I turn around to congratulate myself on “calling” the walk-off, and Durrett’s running up the stairs with a grin on his face, to add a legendary end onto a debut story.
I did not want the text I got from Oakland to be real, Tuesday. I still don’t want to believe it.
I saluted you as I walked out of the press box that night, Richard Durrett, a casual goodbye to someone I thought I’d see later. I salute your memory now: Both my memory, and all the things I’ve since learned about so kind and great a man whose time here was too short.