Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Interview with Austin Wates

Austin Wates was a third round draft pick in 2010 out of Virginia Tech and has been the soul of consistency during his time in the minor leagues, hitting .301/.369/.411 over 201 games. He was hitting .305 for the Corpus Christi Hooks (.353 over his last 10 games) before being sidelined with a quad strain. Austin's batting average ranks fourth in the Texas League.

I sat down and talked with Austin during a recent trip to Corpus Christi. The interview was far-ranging, and I did hold back a few things for another piece I'm working on about his philosophy and approach to baseball and the art of hitting. We talked about everything from twitter (a proficient tweeter, he often shares random thoughts with his followers) to his various interests to THE CATCH, and much more. He is extremely intelligent, thoughtful and I found him to be highly engaging as we chatted for almost twenty minutes and could have talked much longer had the time allowed. Here is some of what he had to say.

On his twitter persona: "I guess I'm probably a little bit different than people might assume. It's fun to kind of create a personality on twitter. That is pretty much me in a nutshell, a more condensed version of me. [Austin proudly self identifies as a nerd on twitter.] I think me and my sisters all share that in common. We're very extroverted. All three of us are kind of nerds in our own sense. It's fun for me to interact with people. That's one of he things I don't think people take advantage of twitter enough. They say stuff but they don't respond back or they don't reply and usually, I think, unless someone's asking me for a pair of batting gloves or something, I usually reply."

On where he is and what he needs to do to get to the next level: "I think consistency is pretty much key and that's one of the things they look for when they figure out who they want to sent to the big leagues is consistency. You know what you're going to get with certain people. Hopefully I can just continue to be consistent. The type of player that I am, the big league club is going to need me to have really good at bats every time I go to the plate.  I'm a top of the order type of hitter and I need to have consistent, well put together at bats. I think I've thrown away a handful of at bats this year that I would love to have back but that's something I really need to improve on this year and that will help my overall impression at the plate.  I think that will help me get to the next level a bit quicker."

On spending a full season at Lancaster in 2011 (as the blogosphere called for his promotion): "It was actually good for me to stay out there. I was able to figure out what kind of player I was. It took me a while to get into a rhythm out there.  I didn't really fully understand the professional baseball atmosphere until about halfway through the season and then it started clicking. I was actually happy to stay out there for the whole year."

On THE CATCH: "It was an exciting 48 hours. It was a pretty exciting time. I was getting phone calls and emails for interviews and text messages and the whole shebang. But it was just exciting to be on Sports Center and hearing your name called. That was a pretty cool experience.  Hopefully, some day I'll be there again.

I knew the fence was going to be there and I knew that I was probably going to fall over it. I was just really hoping that it wouldn't hurt. [Austin went on to describe how lucky he was that he landed with his forearm flush with the ground rather than at an awkward angle.] It was kind of a freak deal that happened that nobody got hurt."

[In case you have been living in a cave somewhere and don't know about THE CATCH, or if you just want to see it again, here you go.]

On what he would do if he couldn't play baseball: "I was a psychology and sociology major at Virginia Tech and I don't think I would have done much with that field. I was unsure in college what I really wanted to do so I just picked a major that I enjoyed and stuck with it. I think I only have 18 hours left to graduate. I don't know what I'd be doing right now. I think I'd probably be back in school, maybe in an IT program or doing something that made me happy. I think making money will come for me and as long as I'm happy doing what I'm doing, I'm going to do a really good job of it, in my opinion, so I just need to make sure of that. I love music. I love cars, particularly Formula 1 cars. I love creating stuff, webpages, whatever it is."

On which Astros pitcher he would least like to face: "I think probably I would say [Jose] Cisnero. He's got one of the liveliest fastballs probably in the organization. It's not the hardest. There are a bunch of guys that throw harder than him but when he commands his fastball, he's a tough guy to hit. You can see that in his strikeout rate. It's pretty crazy so that's probably the guy I really wouldn't enjoy being in the batter's box against."

On something most people don't know about him: "I haven't swam in the ocean in almost 10 years now. I got stung by a jellyfish and I've never gone back in ever since. The furthest I've gone in is probably shin high."

Any final words?: "One of the things that I thought was really cool that I was talking [about] with Jake Buchanan the other day that shocks me still is how many people are really interested in minor league baseball out there. There's a big following in the minor leagues and it's pretty cool to be a part of. And I just want anybody out there that's reading the blog [to know] that we all really appreciate it.  It's pretty special.

I think one of the things that people that only follow major league baseball don't understand is that there's certainly no quick fix in baseball. It's one of those sports where you just can't take a couple guys and say, "Oh, well, we're good now" because there's injuries, there's a shopping list of things that you need for a team to be successful. I think the Yankees have proved that you still cannot just buy a championship. It just doesn't happen like that.  If you can be patient with guys, including myself, we're doing everything we can to help out."

Thank you for your time, Austin. I hope to see you back in the lineup soon!

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