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Richardson Travels Hard Road to Softball

By Chad Capellman
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 15 1996; Page C09
The Washington Post

"Max out!" It's the phrase that comes out of the mouth of Dot Richardson more than any other as she performs her hitting technique during a clinic before 200 high school softball players at Langley High School.

For Richardson, whom many consider to be the greatest woman softball player ever, the two-word command is more than the way to hit a perfect line drive. For Richardson, who is also an orthopedic surgeon, the phrase best describes how the soon-to-be-Olympian tries to succeed at doing the two things she loves most.

Softball will be an Olympic medal sport for the first time this summer, and the U.S. team, which has not lost in international competition in a decade, is favored to win the gold. The team is 106-0 since 1985. Richardson, who was named the NCAA player of the decade in the 1980s after three seasons with UCLA, is the focal point of the U.S. team.

At 13, she was the youngest player ever in the national Women's Major Fast Pitch league, and she is about to make history again. In June, Rawlings will release a Dot Richardson signature glove, making the 5-foot-5 shortstop and probable leadoff hitter for the United States, the first woman to receive such an honor.

It is clear that Richardson, who conducted the clinic last month with Olympic team third baseman and pitcher Lisa Fernandez, relishes the role of ambassador as her sport prepares to take its place on the Olympic stage.

"I would have given anything to have met an Olympian when I was younger," Richardson says. "Now I realize I am an Olympian, and I never could have met an Olympian in my sport before. All of these girls have just now, and when they leave they can say, `I just met two Olympians and I just met two Olympians in my sport.' There are not too many people that can say that in softball."

Richardson is entering her third year of orthopedic residency at the University of Southern California General Hospital but has put it on hold for one year to train for the Games.

Each year for the past six years Richardson discovered that, with some creative scheduling, she could play for the Raybestos Brakettes, a fast-pitch team in Connecticut. The team is coached by Ralph Raymond, who at 70 will be the oldest U.S. Olympic coach at the Atlanta Games.

While in medical school at the University of Louisville from 1989-93, and then the past two years during her residency in Los Angeles, Richardson would fly into LaGuardia Airport in New York. Then she would take a limousine to Bridgeport, and from there be driven to the field to play games on the weekend. Richardson, who paid for all of the travel expenses, would move to Connecticut to play during any extended breaks.

"There were times where [Raymond] called Dot and said, `Don't come this weekend, you've had enough, just don't come,' " said Jim Bracken, the coach at George Mason who is Raymond's close friend. "But she just insisted, `I need to come. I need to practice.' "

In describing the way she was able to prolong her softball career a year at a time, Richardson, who hit .469 for the gold medal winning U.S. team at the Pan American Games last year, has a matter-of-fact tone. She talks about five-hour drives home to Louisville from tournaments in Illinois and the 36-hour shifts that she worked, often in place of sleep, which enabled her to squeeze in games that were almost always in a different state from her home.

"I hate the word sacrifice because I think sacrifice means that you're missing something or paying some big dues," said Richardson, who is paying off $140,000 in student loans. "Over the past six years, I've had no time for hardly anything else -- it's been either softball or medicine. But in return, they both have been able to be an outlet for each other."

Two days after the closing ceremonies, Richardson will find herself once again at the operating table, and moving on with her life.

"I really feel that it's a beginning. Because through the competitions in the Olympics, the rest of the world is going to fall in love with the sport that we have loved all our lives. It's going to be a magical moment that is not going to be bittersweet."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company
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