Astros OF Prospect Austin Wates on the Art of Baseball

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Corpus Christi Hooks OF Austin Wates recently. Even if you’re not an Astros minor league fan, the name may ring a bell because this catch was featured prominently on Sports Center back in May.

There are two things you need to know about Austin Wates. First of all, he is extremely intelligent (a psychology/sociology major and self-described nerd who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in short order)  and, secondly, he can flat out hit.  His entire minor league career, he has hovered right around .300 or slightly over, never a prolonged slump, hitting almost as well against lefties as righties, the soul of consistency. He is a prototypical lead-off hitter who can get on base and then make things happen. But I’m not going to dwell on his stats (which speak for themselves).

What I wanted to know from Austin was if his intelligence ever got in the way. Every baseball fan knows or has known some player who simply thought too much and got himself into trouble because of it. So I asked Austin about just that.

Austin told me, “I was actually talking about this with our hitting coach Joel Chimelis. I’m a different person when I get on the baseball field. Not to say that I play stupid or I’m foolish on the field but I just kind of play. I don’t think to a crazy extent. That’s what actually gets a lot of people in trouble. When you think and you think and you overthink, then you start second guessing and that’s when you get into trouble. As an athlete you have to be able to trust the work and preparation you’ve done beforehand because you can always fall back on that but if I’m second guessing myself or thinking or overthinking, then you’re probably not going to succeed at this level. My main thing has always been trust yourself and you’ve just got to play … Even a smart business man will tell you he can trust his gut on something. When worse comes to worse, sometimes you have to take a gamble and just do it. And that’s kind of how it is everyday for me.”

I also asked him about his twitter persona (and other things that you can see in this interview) because I found it odd that he would become very animated when he talked about his love for Formula 1 racing, music, his dogs and other things, but not when he talked about baseball.

According to Austin, “I try to stay as even-keeled as possible. It’s funny that you’d say that because people [say] you seem emotionless out there. I’ve never been an emotional person per se. It’s not to say that I don’t love baseball, but I know how my body works and when I get really excited I tense up and I don’t play relaxed so I’ve learned that about myself over the years, especially with baseball. It’s a sport where you really need the little muscles to function well. I’ve learned if I drink a five hour energy or something like that before a game, I’m way too wired to play at my level. One of the things I’ve tried to focus on is just being even-keeled. When I’m having a good game I’m the same player in the dugout and on the field as I am when I’m having a bad game. I learned that the hard way in college.”

There is something simple, elegant and almost zen-like in his approach. And it works for him. I talked to Coach Chimelis about Austin. He talked about mechanics and things he was working with Austin on improving, all the regular things that a coach is going to say about one of his players, but then his tone shifted. “Ever since I’ve known him at Tri-City [Short Season A affiliate of the Astros] two or three years ago, his mechanics were bad but he always found a way to hit the ball hard. He’s just one of those guys that gets it done. It’s amazing. It’s a gift. I just sit back and like … wow.”

A calm, quiet, relaxed approach seems to work for Austin Wates whether it’s hitting or making an amazing catch. Baseball when played properly isn’t just a sport, it’s an art, and  Austin Wates appears to be a very gifted artist.

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