Royals name Richardson new skipper

Posted: October 2, 2013

WINCHESTER — In adding Stu Richardson, the Winchester Royals are returning to a formula that’s worked pretty well for them before — hiring a manager with Valley Baseball League experience.

The Royals announced Monday that the 63-year-old Richardson will succeed Kyle Phelps and be the team’s 20th manager.

Royals president Vince Di Benedetto said that Phelps informed the team at the end of the season that he would not return in 2014 so that he could pursue an opportunity coaching football for Lyon College (Ark.), the NAIA school Phelps graduated from in 2010. Lyon has not had a football program since 1951, but the school is slated to field an official squad in 2015.

Hired prior to the 2013 season, Phelps was the first Royals’ hire in a long time who didn’t have previous VBL experience. Though that’s obviously not a requisite to be successful, last year’s 13-30 season was the worst in the Royals’ 25-year history, and it was the worst record among the 12 teams in the VBL.

In Richardson, the Royals have someone who managed in the league before the Royals were formed — he guided New Market in 1977 and 78 — and someone with ownership experience. Richardson was Woodstock’s first owner when the team started play in 2004, and maintained that role for six years before spending a seventh year as a consultant. Richardson said Woodstock made the playoffs in five of the six years that he owned the team.

Richardson has spent the last three years coaching collegiate summer baseball, the first two in the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League and last year with the Petersburg Generals of the Coastal Plain League.

Di Benedetto said the Royals considered a few candidates, but Richardson’s coaching and VBL experience set him apart. The Royals elected to offer Richardson the job at their board meeting on Sept. 17, and he accepted three days later.

“I think he’s going to do a great job recruiting,” Di Benedetto said. “He’s very enthusiastic. I think he was on vacation when he took the job, and he started making recruiting calls while he was sitting on the beach.”

Richardson said he started to get the itch to coach again while he was in management at Woodstock. Ideally, he’d still be in Hawaii. The only reason why he left there was because the league shut down operations after the 2012 season.

He returned stateside to be an assistant coach with Petersburg last year. He enjoyed the fan support — some games in the Coastal Plain League had as many as 4,000 fans — but not the travel. The league stretches all the way down to Columbia, S.C.

“There was too much travel,” said Richardson, who grew up in Hillsville and lives in Richmond. “If we were going to Columbia, we’d leave at 11 a.m., get home at 5 a.m., then have to be on the field for [batting practice] at 3 p.m.”

Richardson also noted that the season was longer, with 56 games instead of 44. But now he’s back in the VBL environment that he knows, and a Royals organization that’s he familiar with, even though some of the names have changed. For example, Di Benedetto took over as Royals president in March, but Richardson’s familiarity with longtime Royals employee and former team president Jim Phillips made Richardson interested in returning to the VBL.

“It’s a great organization, and I want to bring them some wins,” Richardson said. “What it boils down is having good kids who are looking to win. You want kids who represent their school well.”

Richardson has a history of bringing in solid talent. In his six years as Woodstock’s owner, he had 56 players go on to sign pro contracts, including Atlanta Braves pitcher Brandon Beachy.

He’s been hard at work since he was hired, as he and his coaching staff have brought in 15 to 17 players so far, about half of the total they want.

Richardson believes in recruiting the entire nation, as evidenced by the fact that Winchester signed three players from San Jose State on Monday. Richardson said he’s going to continue to push hard with the amount of available talent dwindling. For example, Richardson said two of his usual go-to schools, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, had already had all their players commit to summer teams by the end of August.

Richardson said he places a great emphasis on pitching, and Alex Gonzalez — whom he considers to be as associate head coach — will handle his staff. Gonzalez pitched one year in the minor leagues for the Boston Red Sox, and will begin his fourth year as the pitching coach at Barry University (Fla.) this year.

Provided he does not sign a pro player contact, Rocco Cundari, a pitcher from Southern Connecticut State University, will be another assistant coach next season.

In 2012, Richardson guided the Waikiki Surfers to the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League championship series finals, the same year that the Royals played for the Jim Lineweaver Cup in the VBL. The hope is that that type of success will return to Bridgeforth Field for the 13-time VBL champion Royals.

“We’ve got that heritage and tradition,” Di Benedetto said. “We hope to get the team back on track.”

Note: Di Beneddetto said the VBL is planning on having just 11 teams next season because the Rockbridge Rapids will no longer field a team.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at  rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1