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Richardson regroups from snub to find place on field

She hit the winning HR in the '96 Games for the U.S. softball team - which took its time asking her back.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


Our story begins in a car racing down a freeway midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. At the wheel is a doctor who has just worked a 24-hour shift and is wondering whether she is about to fulfill some lofty purpose or simply chase her pride.

To complete the picture, she is trying to figure out how she will change from her hospital scrubs into a softball uniform in the car without being ogled or arrested.

Is this any kind of life for a respected orthopedic surgeon?

By the time she reached San Diego, Dot Richardson had decided that, yes, it most certainly is.

Richardson, you may recall, was the breakout star for the gold medal-winning U.S. softball team in the 1996 Olympics. She was a medical student with a killer personality who just happened to hit the deciding home run in the championship game.

When the Games were completed, Richardson knew she had enough going on with her medical career that she could leave softball behind. But she was horrified to learn the U.S. national team had enough going on that it could leave her behind.

For more than two years, U.S. officials decided their team was better off without Richardson. Considering she had earned a fellowship working with reknowned sports physician Frank Jobe in Los Angeles, Richardson should have been able to ignore the slight and diagnose another Dodger or Laker.

Yet as time went on, the snub gnawed at Richardson. Which is why she found herself speeding toward a training camp for the U.S. team in January 1998. She was supposed to catch a flight after her shift in the trauma center, but she missed her plane and was worried she was going to miss the workout, too.

"I was driving to San Diego, realizing I might not make it in time. And if I did, would I feel any excitement after going 27 hours with no sleep," Richardson said. "I thought, "Oh, God, give me some kind of sign. They say athletes don't know when it is time for them to walk away. Let me know if this is my time.' I got there at 12:15 with 15 minutes to spare.

"At that moment I realized that even though my life had changed, I still loved this sport and I wasn't ready to quit."

There still was one small problem: She was not given a spot on the national team that day.

A year later, however, the star shortstop was invited back with one condition. She was going to be a second baseman.

U.S. officials had been weighing the need to keep their team young and fresh, yet also were cognizant of the needed media focus Richardson would bring with her. They had 22-year-old power hitter Crystl Bustos at shortstop, so Richardson was going to have to move over if she wanted to play.

It had literally been 20 years since Richardson played second base in an international setting, and she was more than a little concerned about making the switch.

"My teammates came to me and said, "You will play second base, and you will do the best you can. So accept it and deal with it.' And for the team, I did," Richardson said. "I decided it was an incredible compliment that they felt I could do it."

Her interpretation of the situation is vintage Richardson: Find a positive and make it work. Which also explains how she has managed to leave her work in Los Angeles for three months to travel on a nationwide tour with the team in preparation for the Sydney Olympics in September.

Richardson arranged to be on call more than any other resident this spring to make up the time she is missing.

"Time is too short," she said. "Time will not stop. So any minute we waste, any minute we are not doing something productively, is a minute we've lost forever."

At 38, she does realize time is running short for her as a player on the Olympic team, although she is not ready to give up completely. When asked if she would have an interest in coaching the 2004 team, Richardson grinned broadly.

And took it a step further.

"In 2012," she said, "how about the orthopedic surgeon for the USOC?"

U.S. softball team vs. Tampa Bay FireStix.

  • WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Sunday, Plant City Stadium (free admission).

  • OLYMPICS INSIDE: Wrestler Matt Ghaffari wins the 286-pound division in the Greco-Roman challenge tournament.

* * *

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