Pitcher goes from working at Miller Brewery to facing the Brewers

On Friday night, Miami's Trevor Richards will take the mound in the stadium sponsored by the brand that once paid him $9 an hour. Photo via MillerCoors

When the Miami Marlins take the field Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the man who will take the mound is the same guy who, 15 months ago, was selling trinkets in the MillerCoors gift shop two miles away.

On the against-all-odds meter, Trevor Richards is right up there. Undrafted out of Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, Richards played independent ball with the Gateway Grizzlies. He lived with his parents where he grew up in Aviston, Illinois, a town of 2,000, and drove some 33 miles to the ballpark to play.

Meanwhile, Richards and his high school sweetheart Aunna Beckemeyer had agreed they would give it one more year. Richards, who has a degree in criminology, was looking at jobs with the border patrol.

That's when the Miami Marlins bought his contract and he was sent to low-A ball. When he wasn't pitching, he went to live in Milwaukee with Aunna, who was working in PR.

"He was sitting at my place all day for two days, and after that he said to me, 'I gotta do something,'" she said.

So they went online and found a job at MillerCoors in guest relations.

Kristie Holden, the supervisor of the division, was looking for a temporary replacement for an employee who was on medical leave. She needed someone to work in the gift shop and to be in the employee beer store.

"Trevor applied and was perfect for the job," Holden said. "And it worked out for him because it put him in the routine that pitchers crave. He worked out at the gym in the morning and could throw when work was over."

"The pay was $9 an hour on the nose," Richards said. "I won't forget that. Only got overtime on Christmas."

Holden, an avid baseball fan, who says she has been to most of the major league ballparks and many of the minor league ones, frequently talked with Richards about the game, but didn't get a handle on how good he was.

When Richards left in February 2017, his colleagues couldn't have dreamed that the next time they would see him would be right before he pitched at Miller Park against the Brewers. But Richards rose quickly through the minors. With a 2.53 ERA and a 12-11 record in high-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville, he was named Marlins Pitcher of the Year.

The offseason took him back to his home town of Aviston, where he was a substitute teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade. "The kids knew who I was," Richards, 24, said. "The day I left, we had a baseball party."

This year, he took advantage of his non-roster invitee status to spring training and made the team.

He comes to Milwaukee with a record of 0-1 in three starts, a 4.70 ERA and nine strikeouts.

On the Marlins' off day in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Richards brought some of his teammates to the brewery where they got a VIP hard-hat tour. Richards told Holden that the rookies were responsible for getting the alcohol for the veterans. Holden took him down to the employee beer store where he used to work and gave him three cases.

On Friday night, he's pitching in the stadium sponsored by the brand that used to pay him a little more than minimum wage, with his former coworkers looking on in seats down the third base line.

All while Richards comes full circle on a life story that, at least so far, is hard to believe.