Richie Walcott has gone from the diamond to a diamond in the rough.
Walcott, 21, a rookie right wing for the Skipjacks, is in his first year of professional hockey. Just three years ago he was considered a baseball prospect.
A native of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Walcott, a left fielder, played three years for the Canadian national team and competed in the world championships in Australia. Canada finished in a three-way tie for third in the tournament.
zTC "I played hockey in the midgets and in high school, but then I got involved in baseball," Walcott said. "I gave up hockey and concentrated on baseball and did real well. I hit well [.352] and was considered a power hitter [80 RBI]. I also could throw and run and stole a lot of bases.
"The Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos both wanted me to sign a pro contract, but I wanted to go to college. The Blue Jays sponsored the Canadian national team and gave me a college scholarship. I went to Douglass University in Vancouver, and everything was fine the first two years. Then, the third year, everything got screwed up, everything was disorganized and there wasn't enough money to continue college."
Walcott went home to Cape Breton, and, because he was bored, he decided to play hockey again. He played Junior B hockey for Sydney two years ago, finishing with 12 goals, 14 assists and 171 penalty minutes in 20 games. Last season, he played with Halifax in Junior B and had two goals, three assists and 108 penalty minutes in 17 games.
"A scout, Darrell Young, saw me play and recommended me to the Washington Capitals," Walcott said. "I think what impressed him the most was my fighting. Jack Button [Capitals director of player personnel] signed me, and I came to the Washington training camp."
Walcott, at 6 feet 2, 220 pounds a noted battler, has won or held his own in all his fights this season for the Skipjacks and ECHL Hampton Roads Admirals, where he played for two weeks. He has only one goal with Baltimore, and leads the team in penalty minutes with 233.
"I don't look for fights, but I don't shy away from them either," he said.
"Richie has the potential to be an excellent hockey player," Button said. "He is big, strong, quick and has great hands. We believe he is a fine prospect. It's always nice to have someone with his toughness on the team, just to keep the other teams in check.
"I don't know if a diamond in the rough would the proper way to describe him, though. Maybe it would be more appropriate to call Richie an uncultured pearl."
Walcott said he has forgotten about baseball and will now concentrate on hockey.
"I love the game, and I believe I'm improving. Baseball was good, but hockey is better," he said.
Capitals connection: Four members of the Canadian Olympic team, which earned the silver medal in the recently completed Winter Olympics, have Capitals ties. Defensemen Jason Wooley and Brad Schlegel are Capitals draft choices, and both are expected to sign contracts this week and be assigned to the Skipjacks.
Center Dave Tippett was on loan to the Olympic team and is expected to rejoin the Capitals this week. Also, defenseman Brian Tutt was a member of the Capitals and Skipjacks two years ago before deciding to play in Norway last year.