MISSOULA — The message came through Facebook and left a smile on Tradd Richardson’s face after he had spoken publicly about his Tourette syndrome for the first time ahead of the baseball season.
The Missoula Mavericks shortstop didn’t want the focus of that talk to be about just how great an athlete he was but instead about how he overcame Tourette's. Maybe it'd help others dealing with the syndrome realize that it shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance.
Richardson was taken aback by the responses he got from people he knew and didn't know, including the Facebook message from a younger extended family member of one of his former Frenchtown teammates who also has Tourette’s.
“I just thought it was really cool that I was able to reach somebody so close to home and they were inspired by it. I never realized it until then,” Richardson said ahead of the American Legion State AA baseball tournament, which the Mavs enter as the top seed Saturday in Billings.
“It made me feel good to know that something like that can inspire other people to push past things if they’re dealing with something and to still be able to do the things they want to do.”
That outward approach of talking about his Tourette’s wasn’t always something the college-bound athlete had, his dad Mark Richardson said.
Growing up on the East Coast, Tradd was occasionally teased by teammates because of the vocal and motor tics caused by the syndrome. When coaches thought he was goofing around by making sounds or faces, they’d make him run laps.
One event in particular stands out to Mark, who’s dealt with Tourette’s himself. When Tradd was about 10 years old, he came to the car crying after practice and wanted to quit soccer because boys on his team were picking on him because of his tics.
Tradd has embraced his battle with Tourette’s as he’s grown and matured. He doesn’t shy away from talking about it when someone asks about his tics. But he hadn’t voluntarily shared it until this spring because he didn’t want others to see it as him making an excuse.
Now that Tradd — a standout multi-sport athlete — has put his battle out there publicly, he’s glad it’s inspiring others, like the boy whose parents sent the Facebook message and who he got to talk with.
“It’s not just the kid that sits in a corner in the lunchroom that has Tourette’s,” Mark said. “The parents relayed to me that he thought it would be embarrassing but was encouraged that Tradd was open because here’s this popular kid who doesn’t see it as a weakness he has to hide.
“Tradd’s not afraid to admit he has Tourette’s and say, ‘I can’t help it.’ People can see that it doesn’t make him weird or a bad person or odd.”
The youngest of five kids, Richardson enjoyed sports since he started tee-ball as a youngster who was born in South Carolina and grew up in North Carolina.
His family moved to Frenchtown when he was 12, and he soon began to star for the Broncs. He was an all-state soccer player, an all-conference football kicker as a senior and a basketball player his first two years. In the summers, he’d play for the Mavs and is in his third AA season.
Along the way, Richardson discovered that sports provided relief from his Tourette’s because of the constant focus required in competition. It’s a message he’ll share with others, encouraging them to find the thing that makes a positive connection.
“I’ve played sports since a really young age just because I like it and like being outside,” Richardson said. “Once I realized, ‘OK, when I do this I don’t notice it as much,’ it’s been more enjoyable for me actually to just have some of that relief.”
That’s especially true at the catcher position, which Richardson has played in the past and about 25% of the innings this season. There, he has to be constantly evaluating the batter, the pitches, the baserunners and more.
Overcoming Tourette’s, Richardson’s hard work and success on the diamond has led to an opportunity for him to play in college. He’ll be suiting up at Lassen Community College in California next season.
“It’s a dream come true,” Richardson said. “I’m very excited, very happy to be able to go and compete at such a high level. It’s not every day that somebody gets to go play a college sport. So, I feel really lucky to be able to do that.”
Mark has noticed a similar principle of intense focus leading to relief play out in the classroom for Tradd, who was diagnosed with Tourette’s when he was about 7 or 8 years old.
When Tradd was in grade school, he’d quickly solve math problems, sit back while waiting for others and his tics would come out, Mark recalls hearing from teachers. But when he took tougher Advanced Placement classes, the prolonged focus diminished the frequency of the tics.
In fact, many of Tradd’s friends didn’t know he had Tourette’s until he spoke about it in the spring because the symptoms have become so mild.
“We don’t know if the tics have been lessened because of the athletics and high-level academics,” said Mark, who felt his tics were 10 times worse than Tradd’s as a kid, “but they’ve seemed to be lessened the more challenged and hyper-focused he is.”
Richardson’s strong play on the diamond is one of the reasons Missoula enters the state tournament as the No. 1 seed.
He’s displayed his versatility by moving from third base to shortstop and solidifying the spot. It’s a position at which Richardson has more chances to make plays, which requires him to stay engaged by evaluating more potential situations.
“He really understands the game and knows what should be done and how to react in situations,” Mavs manager Brent Hathaway said. “He’s just a baseball kid and takes a lot of pride in what the game means and how to play it. He’s a good guy to have at shortstop because it’s a pretty involved position.”
Hathaway has known about Richardson’s Tourette’s since teaching him in eighth-grade math. He treats him like any other kid on the team and holds him to the same standards.
Hathaway hasn’t seen the syndrome negatively affect Richardson, who once again has been a veteran leader and one of the top bats in the Mavs’ lineup along with Dane Fraser.
“I certainly don’t think it hurts him at all,” Hathaway said. “He’s always focused and in tune with what’s going on.”
Richardson and the Mavs head into state with a 17-7 conference record, tied with Bozeman. However, they're on a four-game losing streak that included dropping three in a row to a strong-pitching Lethbridge team they could see in the second round.
Missoula opens the double-elimination tournament against eighth-seeded Great Falls at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ll have to play our very best and get a break or two,” Hathaway said. “There’s three or four teams that could win it.”
The Mavs, who feature seven college-bound athletes, have been aided by the development of a strong lineup throughout the batting order. That’s been helped by the rise of younger players like Drew Stensrud, Zach Hangas, Dayton Bay and Bridger Johnson.
Pitch counts and rest days are always a factor in tournaments, and Missoula could be helped by the depth in its pitching rotation. Dylan Chalmers and Fraser, who had offseason UCL surgery, headline the staff, while Brendon Hill, Parker Stevens and others provide the depth that could separate them from other contenders.
“A big part of us developing as a team is our pitching staff has done incredible,” Richardson offered. “All of them as a whole have improved and been able to keep us in some of the hard games we’ve been in. I think that’s one of the most impressive things from this year.”
Except, of course, for the positive impact Richardson continues to make on others by sharing his story.