A former two-sport star at Lee County and Florida State, D’Vontrey Richardson progressed in the Brewers’ minor-league system before deciding to give up pro baseball. (Milwaukee Brewers/Special to The Herald)
LEESBURG — D’Vontrey Richardson just wants to get his degree and become a coach.
Thomas Nichols is just fine with being a husband and a working man.
And just like that, professional baseball is no longer in the future of these two former Lee County baseball stars.
Richardson, a two-sport star for the Trojans who went on to star in both at Florida State, decided not to report to spring training this year with the Milwaukee Brewers, who he signed with after giving up collegiate football and baseball with the Seminoles in 2009.
Nichols, The Herald’s 2007 Ray Knight Player of the Year who went on to star at Georgia Tech and then was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2010, also decided the life of a professional baseball player was not for him. He returned to Southwest Georgia recently, got married and is now working full-time at the newly opened, first-class training facility in Leesburg, Athletic Republic, with plans to return to Atlanta later this year and finish his degree in business.
“I was just burnt out,” Nichols told The Herald on Tuesday. “I wanted to take my life in a different direction and finish school, so I told the Angels at the end of (last year’s minor league season), and they understood. I just had a change of heart with the whole thing.”
Nichols, who was drafted in the 18th round in 2010, said he was disappointed he didn’t go higher after a stellar senior year at Georgia Tech, finishing with a team-high .376 batting average while playing infield and pitching for the Yellow Jackets.
“It was disheartening that I didn’t go higher (in the draft), to be honest with you,” said Nichols, who played one season with the Angels’ Class A team, the Orem (Utah) Owlz before telling the organization late last year of his decision. “I had aspirations to go a lot higher, but I figured I had to sign and give (pro ball) a try because I didn’t want to look back and regret not trying to make it. Looking back, I wish I would’ve finished school, but my dream my whole life was to play in the majors and I had to chase that dream. But ultimately, I just found it wasn’t for me.”
Richardson, who is close friends with Nichols, said he knows exactly what his good pal means.
“Sometimes, you just have to give it up whenever it’s not as fun as it used to be,” said Richardson, who was progressing through the Brewers’ minor-league system and was listed as a Top 15 prospect when he informed Milwaukee before spring training earlier this year that he was hanging up his cleats. “It’s a game we’ve played our whole life, and we should just be able to go out and have fun doing it. Practice was fun, the games were fun, but all the traveling and being away from my family and friends (took its toll).”
The Brewers, however, aren’t exactly ready to give up on the kid affectionately known as “D’Vo.”
Richardson, who started his professional baseball career with the low-Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers before being moved up to high-Class A Brevard County Manatees last year, had a conference call set up with members of the team’s front office late last week.
Steve Glover, Richardson’s guardian, said the organization wanted to make one last push to convince D’Vo to return — and Glover advised Richardson he should, at the very least, listen.
“He’d been promoted every step of the way, and I guarantee he’s as good as almost all of the Brewers’ prospects they have right now,” Glover said. “The Brewers won’t draft anyone faster than him, and they know it. They want him back, and I think he should at least let it play out before calling it a career. But it’s his decision, and he’s a grown man, so it’s one he has to make on his own.”
But the conversation never happened.
“I didn’t end up speaking to them. We played a bit of phone tag,” Richardson said. “I’ve already told them what my plans were so I doubt I would go through with (returning) if that’s what it was about. I don’t know.
“Right now, I just want to get my degree, take what I learned from the experience and get my life back on track. I learned a lot from this, and maybe my only regret is that I should’ve been more patient with football and stayed in school.”
Richardson was battling for the starting QB job with Christian Ponder (a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings last year) at Florida State, while also playing baseball, when he decided to leave both sports in Tallahassee and sign with Milwaukee in 2009 after being taken in the fifth round.
His redshirt sophomore season on the gridiron was a successful one, too.
He was used as a dual-threat quarterback, as well as a running back/receiver. He even set the school record for the longest rushing touchdown by a quarterback with his 55-yard score against Chattanooga.
He said Tuesday that after leaving school, he realized just how much he missed football. Now, he wants to return to FSU — but not to play football. Instead, he wants to finish his bachelor’s degree so he can hopefully one day coach it.
“I’m in the process right now of trying to get back into school and finish my degree,” said Richardson, who was a social science major when he left, although now he’d like to switch that to physical education. “I have about two-and-a-half years left. When I’m done, I’d like to start coaching football. That’s the sport I always preferred anyway.”
Richardson, however, did not completely close the door on one day in the near future giving baseball a final shot.
But it would have to be the perfect situation, he said.
“If there was a way I could play baseball for the Brewers and work on my degree at the same time, I’d be interested, I guess,” Richardson said. “I’m just going to play it by ear. But my guess is it wouldn’t be until (spring training) next March when (the opportunity would present itself) again, and that’s a long ways off. I don’t know how I’ll feel then. I’ve been working out every day and staying in good shape, just in case.”
In fact, Richardson’s been staying in shape by working alongside Nichols at Athletic Republic, where Nichols works as a trainer.
And after going through similar plights in their professional lives, there’s no doubt the conversation about what was, or could’ve been, has come up from time to time.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time together since both of us moved back home,” said Nichols, who got married late last year with Richardson right there by his side as part of the wedding party. “We talk about what a grind it was out there, both physically and mentally, how it wears on you. You basically spend eight months away from home with very few days off. It’s tougher than I think either of us thought it would be.
“But we’ve both come to grips with it, and we’re ready to move on, and we’re both happy with our decisions.”
“When we talk about it, it’s usually for, like, five minutes,” he said. “Baseball will always be a part of lives, but now it’s time to move forward.”
In Nichols, the Angels lose one heck of a hitter who could also pitch.
In 61 games for the Owlz, he batted .239 with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 36 RBI, while posting an on-base percentage of .310 and a slugging percentage of .436.
“I had fun the year I played, but when the season ended, I knew it wasn’t for me,” Nichols said. “So I’ll head back to Tech in the fall and finish my degree in business. I’d like to get into coaching, too. Maybe become an assistant at Georgia Tech. That’s what a lot of guys do to get their foot in the door. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Brewers, meanwhile, not only lose a guy who can speed around the bases with the best of them — D’Vo ran a 4.5 40-yard dash coming
out of high school as a five-star prospect and the No. 1-ranked athlete in Georgia by rivals.com — but he can also swing a big bat.
For the Timber Rattlers in 2010, he batted .243 with seven homers, 28 doubles three triples and 51 RBI, while posting an on-base percentage of .331 and slugging .368. Then in 2011 after being promoted to Brevard, his batting average rose to .284 with three HRs, 13 doubles, seven triples and 41 RBI, with an on-base percentage of .327 and a slugging percentage of .384 — although he played 35 fewer games in Brevard than in Wisconsin because of a pelvis injury.
Glover said that while Nichols and Richardson’s reasons for giving up their chance at a professional careers are similar, it’s tough to see a pair of talented, local players end their careers far earlier than many expected.
But he also understands why they made the decisions they did.
“From the outside looking in, it’s a lifestyle that seems glamorous and all that, but it’s not for everyone. It’s hard to be away that long, and sometimes you don’t realize how hard it’s going to be until you actually go out and try and live it,” he said. “In both their situations, neither was demoted and both were progressing through the ranks. It was just a personal decision, and I’m sure it was a tough one to make.
“After all, you only get one shot at life, and it’s important that you’re happy.”