By PHIL ATTINGER
SEBRING — Richard Cormier III loved nothing more than to play baseball. He said he did just enough in school to keep his grades up so he could play ball.
He also said he had a strong background in Christianity in his early education, going to Sebring Christian Academy — now “Heartland Christian” — before he attended public school. However, he hid his Christian roots, he said.
“I didn’t want to be ‘that kid’ who always talked about God,” Cormier said during his keynote speech at Wednesday’s Blessing of the Businesses Prayer Luncheon.
Cormier made friends through baseball, he said, and then he fell into a “rough crowd,” which was when his life started turning toward difficulty.
It wasn’t always that way, he said, although he had a precocious streak to him.
Born on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, he thought until age 8 that everyone celebrated an international holiday and wore green to celebrate his birthday.
Also, he said, “I was an energetic child” at the Christian school. Many times, Cormier said, the principal’s paddle “was well worn on my buttocks.”
However, it was in high school, with the rough crowd, that he started drinking, something his own father had battled successfully for 22 years at that point.
At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he said he barely learned to fly — not take-off or land — a Cessna, but “I batted 1,000 at the bar.”
His senior year was one of the best for baseball, when his team was second in the nation, he said.
However, when it came time for draft picks, his name never came up, not once in more than 40 rounds of picks.
“I cried out to God, ‘Why give me the talent to do something and then be done with it?’” Cormier said.
He prayed for one season, and got a call to play for the Milwaukee Brewers, which he finds ironic, being he was already an alcoholic at the time.
After the first year, he ended up in the hospital after he and a teammate got drunk at a 21st birthday party and got in a fight.
“I was given the chance to live my dreams and I literally drank it away,” Cormier said.
He prayed for another chance, and got to go to Davenport, Iowa, which he said has “corn and baseball.”
As soon as the plane landed, he said, he was at the ABC liquor store.
On Jan. 23, 2006, two weeks before spring training, he blacked out from drinking, walked into the wrong Orlando home and got shot in the thigh with a shotgun, Cormier said.
“I was alive. I stopped drinking,” Cormier said, but pain pills replaced alcohol.
On March 15, 2008, he totaled his car when he fell asleep at 10 a.m. and ran into the back of a semi-trailer.
“That was it. I was broken. I asked God to help me,” Cormier said.
His father invited him to a Promise Keepers meeting, where he met Arthur Hallet of EE Prison Ministries, who would not take “no” or “maybe” for an answer when he invited Cormier to participate.
“Apparently, when you ask God where you want to go, he’ll tell you,” Cormier said.
Cormier, each day, would try to find an excuse not to go. Now 11 years later, he said he’s still trying to find a reason not to go back, but can’t.
The program cuts recidivism to 3.2% where the national average is 85%, he said.
It brings together members of MS13, the Latin Kings, the Crips and the Bloods, as well as other gangs who would otherwise never sit near each other, let alone talk or become friends.
He also married Gina Cormier 10 years ago. They have two children, 8-year-old Richard IV and 4-year-old Casiphia, and the couple participates in a church ministry to the Island of Tortuga in Haiti.
He and Gina also have worked to ensure each child of the island has access to an education as well as a meal each day to accompany the learning process.
When not at work or on mission, Cormier is often found at the baseball fields with his son, either coaching his son’s teams or at his daughter’s dance classes.
“My life changed when I stopped being a ‘fan’ and became a follower of Christ,” Cormier said. “My wife and I, we love God and we love people. We need to love as we want to be loved.”