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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Interview Part 2: Pat Austin, Square One

Pat Austin reaches for a throw at third base for the rookie Bristol Tigers in 1986. (photo provided)
Part 1: Learned Much | Part 2: Square One

Pat Austin played in rookie ball his first year, single-A his second and AA his third. He'd even made the Tigers' 40-man roster.

In his fourth season, he made AAA Toledo and he seemed to be on track to make Detroit, if not that year, maybe the next.

But, for Austin, it didn't work out like that.

"Everything's just moving along like it's supposed to be," Austin recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days, "and I hit a big slump and all of a sudden I find myself at London, AA.

"It was kind of an eye-opener at first," Austin added. "Looking back, maybe I got a little bit full of myself. But I was definitely struggling, there was no doubt about that."

Austin went back to AA London and tried to work his way out of that slump and back to AAA. Despite those efforts, Austin could only make it back to AAA briefly, and he never made the majors.

Austin spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently from his Atlanta-area home, talking of his early days learning the game in Ohio, to turning pro and his move up to AAA.

He also spoke of his time spent since his playing days, unconventionally taking something from his baseball career and turning it into a career out of baseball.

Austin's pro career began in June 1986, taken by the Tigers in the fifth round of the draft, out of Wilmington College in Ohio.

Glens Falls Tigers at East Field in 1988. Pat Austin made AA Glens Falls in his third year as a pro. (photo provided)
With the Tigers, Austin was sent to rookie Bristol in the Appalachian League. There, the quick Austin learned the mechanics of stealing bases from his manager Tom Gamboa. He ended up stealing 48.

He also had to deal with the transition from college to the pros. In college, Austin recalled, each team had two, maybe three good players. That was different in the pros.

"Once you get into rookie ball, pretty much everybody's good," Austin recalled, "whether it was size, how fast you were or arm strength."

Moving to single-A Lakeland, Austin recalled using his speed again, his manager basically giving him the green light to run. Over 115 games, he ended up stealing 45.

Austin made AA Glens Falls the next season, hitting .297 and stealing 24. He also made the 40-man roster. For 1989, he started the year at AAA Toledo, then the slump hit.

At Toledo, Austin got into 16 games, but hit just .192, stealing three bases. Sent back down to London, Austin recalled working with his new manager Chris Chambliss, getting his confidence back a little bit.

The 1988 Glens Falls Tigers team photo, including Pat Austin. (photo provided)
"Once you get humbled, I think the biggest thing is you go back to square one," Austin said.

Austin recalled Chambliss pointing out a few things and he got some of his swing back. Over 83 games at London, he hit .255. Still, though, it wasn't his first three seasons, where his average hovered around .300.

That off-season, Austin was traded to the Cardinals, sent there in a five-player deal that sent Jim Lindeman and another player to the Tigers.

But the Cardinals didn't really have room for an infielder like Austin. He got just eight hitless at bats at AAA Louisville, went on the disabled list and was released. "That was another lesson learned," Austin said.

He finished out the year with the Orioles, at AA Hagerstown. There, he did get his swing back. He hit .307 over 97 games, stealing 22.

He made it to Hagerstown in time to make that year's team set. Earlier that year, he'd even made a card set of one of the major league manufacturers, Score, branded a 1990 rookie. Austin wasn't sure what prompted that, other than he was on the 40-man roster.

After finishing the season with the Orioles AA club, Austin went to spring training, but was released at the end of camp. Picked up by the Phillies in May, Austin played out the year at AA Reading.

Pat Austin's 1990 ProCards Hagerstown Sun card, left, and his 1990 Score major league card, right.
That summer with Reading, Austin recalled one game where he got the better of his old Tigers AA team. Knowing him, they played him to hit the ball to right. Instead, he took an inside fastball down the left field line, helping lead to a Reading win.

Finally, though, it was a torn muscle in his back ended his career. That, the realization that his career was over, was humbling, as well, Austin recalled.

"I also wasn't real sure where I was going to go from there," Austin said.

Where he ended up was Atlanta. He's now working in finance for a telecommunications company. In college, he'd been pre-med.

The switch, Austin said, came from his playing days, the money matters from his contract negotiations. "So it actually did help me in my long-term carer, as far as working in finance," Austin said.

Along with his finance work, Austin serves as a distributor for AdvoCare, a nutritional products company.

Then there are his three daughters, one a senior at Valdosta State, another is graduating soon with a medical assistant degree and his third, who is soon to graduate high school and has her choice of colleges.

He also still stays involved in baseball, tutoring kids in the game. He also has hope in helping a friend from his summer in Reading, former player Nikco Riesgo, with scouting work.

Looking back on his career, Austin said it's those relationships that he values most.

"I really felt that I met some great people along the way," Austin said, "some of them I'm still in contact with today. But I think that's one of the things I'm most proud of, those relationships, those friendships that were forged. Baseball was a way of being able to do that."

Part 1: Learned Much | Part 2: Square One

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