BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana center fielder Grant Richardson has never faced Iowa pitcher Trenton Wallace. But when he steps into the batter's box on Friday afternoon to hit off him for the first time, he'll already have plenty of knowledge.
He knows it all, already. He does, because he's seen it all already, too. With the help of a Virtual Reality headset, he's watched Wallace pitch to him. He's seen his arm slot, seen the movement on his fastball, and the spin rate. He's seen all his breaking pitches, how it comes out of his hand, how hard it breaks, where it's going.
Almost as if it's real. Oh, the joys of modern technology.
"With the headset, it puts you right in the box for people you want to see. It's pretty amazing,'' said Richardson, a sophomore who's in his third year with the Hoosiers and is hitting .323 on the season, second-best to third baseman Cole Barr (.330). "You can see the pitches you want, see the spin rates, and it really helps you pick it up better when you actually go live.
"It's amazing how real it is. It's awesome. It's crazy what you can do with modern technology these days.''
Richardson is a smooth left-handed hitter, and he's a natural. Even without all the tools available to Indiana hitters, he probably would still be great. But every little bit helps. That, and a lot of hard work.
Richardson had a great high school career, three years at Fort Wayne Dwenger and his senior year at Fishers, where he won a state title. He made an immediate impact at Indiana in 2019, hitting .264 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs, and last year, in that abbreviated season canceled by COVID, he hit .424 with five homers and 17 RBIs in just 14 games.
He's picked up right where he's left off, too, having another great year. He's one of the key catalysts in the lineup for the 18-8 Hoosiers, who are in second place in the Big Ten, just 1.5 games behind Nebraska. He's 32-for-99 this season, with eight doubles and four homers, plus he's also walked 12 times and been hit by a pitch six times.
All that hard work, real or otherwise, really pays off, especially in this different season when the Hoosiers are playing conference-only games, with no midweek games against nonconference foes.
"We have a team full of workers. There's a lot that goes into all of this,'' Richardson said. "We've been having full scrimmages on Tuesday, which really helps. We'll get four or five at-bats against our bullpen guys, which is great, and we use the VR stuff on Wednesdays. We're in the cage, always working out. Come the weekend, we're always ready,
"And this weekend is a good example. We'll see a couple of lefties (Wallace on Friday, Cam Baumann on Sunday), so it's great to get reps during the week against some of our lefties, Those reps help so much.''
Richardson has been a key figure in the heart of Indiana's order for three years now, and his arrival coincided with Jeff Mercer's. The Hoosiers coach knows he has a special player in Richardson.
"Well, he's very physically gifted. He's got strength and twitch, which God gave to him, and he's fortunate to have it,'' Mercer said earlier in the week. "He's able to do a lot of unique things that not a lot of guys can do with the strength and the twitch that goes along with it.
"On top of that, he's a great worker and he's a really good kid who really invests himself into his craft. He grew up in a northern state, in the northern part of that state, and he plays a position that not a lot of northern guys play at a high level just because of the reps. You need a lot of reps, a ton of baseball, to play through the middle of the diamond, like shortstop or center field.''
He's a great kid who's all in with making this team as good as it can be, too. Mercer sees it every day.
"He cares tremendously,'' Mercer said. "He cares about his own growth, but he also cares about the team. When you have a guy who cares about the team, and he's not selfish, those traits lead to a unique player and a unique person. We're very fortunate to have him.''
The Hoosiers have 17 regular-season games remaining starting on Friday, and all of them are against teams with .500 records or better. Richardson said they understand the added importance, but they're always zeroed in anyway, regardless of opponent.
"We know Iowa is a good team, and they'll throw a lot of lefties at us, which will be a challenge, but it's not like we're freaking out,'' Richardson said. "We have a lot of confidence in ourselves, and we're ready for this stretch.
"We've played well all season, outside of that weekend at Ohio State – (where the Hoosiers got swept in a four-game series) – and we bounced back nicely from that, mostly because we do stay focused on the next game. We went back to work and didn't really skip a beat.''
The Hoosiers are 7-1 since that sweep, winning two games at home against Illinois, two out of three on the road at Northwestern and all three games against Minnesota last weekend.
They want that hot streak to continue, and it starts Friday with Iowa.
"We're well prepared, and I think we're playing pretty well right now. We need to keep it up.''
Weekend series: Iowa at Indiana
The home stretch of the Big Ten baseball season begins this weekend when Indiana takes on Iowa in a three-game series. Games are at 5 pm. ET on Friday, 2 p.m. ET on Saturday and Noon ET on Sunday. Fans are still not allowed allowed.
Tommy Sommer (5-1, 3.42 earned run average) will start the opener for the Hoosiers, and he'll square off against Iowa left-hander Trenton Wallace (3-1, 2.47 ERA).
On Saturday, McCade Brown (4-2, 2.41 ERA) will take the mound on Saturday against Iowa's Drew Irvine (2-3, 4.62 ERA) and in the series finale on Sunday, red-hot Gabe Bierman (3-2, 2.21 ERA) starts against Cam Baumann (4-2, 2.68 ERA)
Related stories on Indiana baseball'
- TOM BREW COLUMN: No fans are allowed at Indiana baseball games this season, and that's not going to change anytime this season, either. And it's a shame. CLICK HERE
- BIG TEN STANDINGS, SCHEDULE: The Big Ten is playing a 44-game conference-only schedule this year. Here are the current standings and this weekend's schedule. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA SCHEDULE: Here is Indiana's complete schedule for the year, including links to all the game stories during the course of the season. CLICK HERE