Austen throws 89 mph and gets last laugh

Before a tournament in St. Petersburg, USF assistant coach Bryan Peters approached David Austen with every intention of singing him to be a Bull, but he was going to have a little fun with Austen in the process.

Peters told him that he was looking for a pitcher to fill out the USF roster, and when Austen said that he would be more than happy to do that for him, Peters feigned that he was unsure. Again playing the actor, Peters told Austen that he would sign him if he threw a pitch that was 89 mph.

“Remember now,” Peters said. “I was going to sign him no matter what.”

A feisty Austen said that he would not only hit 89, but he would hit 90. After Austen told his father Dave Austen about the offer, the stage was set for a grand practical joke. Austen’s father sat alongside Peters who had a radar gun in his hand, and they watched Austen throw his first pitch, 86, second pitch 87, third 87 and fourth 88, at which point Austens father stood up and yelled “88” to which Austen nodded from the mound. The fifth pitch was 88 mph. The sixth pitched was released from Austen’s hand, and the screen on the radar gun blinked 89. Austens father jumped up screaming “you’re a Bull, you’re a Bull,” Austen even went on to fulfill his promise of that 90mph pitch.

“I had never seen him pitch that hard,” Peters said. “He doesn’t throw like that, but he doesn’t have to.”

Throughout his career, Austen has done nothing ordinary. From his first involvement in baseball, to his recruitment at USF, he has gone about things in a different way. From karate to USF, Austen has proved that he has what it takes to be the Bulls’ ace.

At age 6, Austen was given a choice by his father. Dave Austen told his son that he could take karate lessons or play baseball. Austen was enamored by the kicking and punching, so he chose karate, and started lessons quickly after his decision. A few sessions of karate went by before Austen decided that it was not as glamorous as it looked and began playing baseball. Austen never looked back, and since that fateful choice, he has been playing baseball year round.

“The whole thing about kicking sounded fun and stuff, but after doing that a couple of times, I decided I didn’t like it, and then (my dad) got me into baseball,” Austen said. “I guess I was just naturally good at it. (My dad) saw something in me, and I just kept playing and playing.”

After years of little league play, Austen attended Coconut Creek High School in Miami, where he played a number of positions including second base, catcher and pitcher. Austen did not step on the mound until his sophomore year. Despite the fact that Austen was pitching more frequently in his sophomore and junior years, it wasn’t until his senior year that he focused solely on a pitching career. Austen, in his time at Coconut Creek, struck out 117 batters in 103 innings and was also an all-state selection in his senior year.

Out of high school, Austen attended Broward Community College where he had an impressive season as a sophomore in 2001, posting an 8-4 record with a 3.50 ERA. As the team’s MVP that season, Austen struck out 80 batters while walking only 14. Austen pitched some good games at Broward, but little did he know that the summer of 2001 held the most important contest of his career so far.

The summer of 2001 started with Austen looking to play at a larger school. He was very interested in playing for a Division I team, but unfortunately for Austen, only one Division I school was interested.

“I had a bunch of schools to go to, but it wasn’t Division I. (Florida Atlantic) offered me, (but) that’s pretty much it out of D I. The rest were D II,” Austen said. “My goal was always to play D I — I knew I could play, but I didn’t know if I was good enough to get opportunities.”

After his recruitment to USF, Austen had to transition from community college baseball to Division I play. That transition did not prove too tough for Austen, who in his first year with the Bulls came out of the bullpen 4-0 in 25 appearances with a 5.95 ERA with 48 strikeouts. Despite the higher level of competition, Austen believes that the fundamentals of the game in Division I are still the same.

“As far as pitching, there is no difference,” Austen said. “You still have to hit your spots and mix it up.”

There may be no difference in the fundamentals, but USF pitching coach Nelson North has seen Austen improve since he was a recruit from Broward.

“I think his confidence has improved a great deal. I think his fastball has picked up in terms of velocity a little bit, (and) I think he has learned to pitch down in the zone much better since he has been here,” North said.

Since his start here at USF in 2002, Austen has moved from the bullpen to the staff ace this season. With a 7-1 record, a 2.15 ERA and 58 strikeouts, Austen is notably the best pitcher on the roster.

“When (Austen) got here, there was something about (him) — he was going to succeed,” North said. “We asked him to come out of the bullpen (and) he did. He didn’t like it, I could tell, (and) he didn’t do it particularly well. But when we started giving him the ball at the start, he’s done just awesome.”

A pitcher not only has to rely on the pitches he throws, or the speed those pitches travel, but he has to rely on his mental toughness as well. According to Austen it takes a lot to be a pitcher.

“It takes everything, your whole brain, everything. People say, ‘You know, I really don’t hear anything,’ (but) sometimes you just hear everybody,” Austen said. “A little rattle is all it takes. All it takes is one fan to chirp in, and one big inning and the game’s over.”

The Bulls’ March 18 game against Army saw Austen obtain a career high 11 strikeouts, but it wasn’t the strikeouts as much as it was his ability to battle back that should be noted. A slew of bad pitches put two runs on the board that night, but instead of falling apart, he went behind the mound, collected himself, came back and didn’t allow a single hit the rest of the time he pitched.

“I really think he is a real bulldog-type kid that just keeps coming at you. You don’t ever see him get frustrated out there. You don’t see him lose his cool at all,” North said. “He shows our team, the other team (and) the people in the stands that he is always in charge of the game.”

Austen said that one of the biggest problems that a pitcher can face is the build up of players on base and runs scored in a single inning.

“Anybody can go out there and see a guy that starts giving up a couple of runs,” Austen said. “Their face changes, their body changes, (then) they go up there and give up a couple more runs.”

Despite it being a problem in pitching, Austen is confident in his ability to calm himself down and stop an opponent’s streak.

“I will just go behind the mound, breathe and just say ‘Don’t worry about it, just go back up there and worry about the next pitch,'” Austen said.

Austen, who is majoring in interdisciplinary social sciences, has aspirations of a post-college baseball career. With scouts at every game, and letters from pro teams in his mailbox, has a chance for his dream career.

“(In five years), I don’t necessarily see myself playing pro ball, but hopefully I’m struggling to get in, or on the verge of getting in,” Austen said. “Five years. I mean that’s not a long time from now, but hopefully I am somewhere playing professional baseball.”

North believes that Austen’s chance of playing in the major leagues would have been better, had he spent all four years at USF.

“I don’t think he would be here right now,” North said. “I don’t think he would have ever made it to his senior year. I think he would have been drafted after last year.”