Lynchburg’s Austen Wade Making the Adjustments for Success

Success is no mystery to High-A Lynchburg center fielder Austen Wade. In Little League, he played on successful teams in his hometown of Midland, Texas, winning city championships between the ages of ten and twelve. Also a football player at that age (who in west Texas doesn’t play football?), baseball remained his first love.

“Growing up in west Texas, high school football is big. You play junior league football, then high school football,” said Wade, “but my parents said play whatever sport you want, and we will get you wherever you need to be in order to play. Honestly, my first love was baseball.”

Wade shifted exclusively to baseball as a high school junior, leaving behind basketball and football, both sports he enjoyed, but not ones where he had the passion to excel. With Texas Tech only an hour north of his home in Midland, it might have been reasonable to assume that he would head there for college, but he went eastwards instead and joined the baseball program at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth.

“I wanted to be in a different part of Texas, at a program that had a good track record in baseball,” said Wade. “I visited Ft. Worth early in high school and it was a small enough university, not the 40,000 kids plus. I wanted to be at a small university and play in an athletic program that was up and coming, and TCU was it.”

It was the right choice for Wade, as the Horned Frogs made it to Omaha for the College World Series in all three of his seasons with the team.

“Looking back on it, there’s not a lot of guys that get to go to the College World Series every year in school. I was fortunate to get that experience, and I got to learn from older guys how to handle failure,” said Wade.

Though the team made it to Omaha three years running, they finished third all three times, a National Championship title remaining just out of reach, similar to the experience for the Texas Tech Red Raiders and this year’s NCAA basketball championship. Wade was rooting for the Red Raiders in the championship game, even though the Hillcats play an hour away from Virginia’s home base in Charlottesville.

It was not hard to root for Texas Tech, with his deep ties to Texas. Though he grew up in west Texas, and went to school in Ft. Worth, Wade also had ties to the Old Dominion from a season of summer ball after his freshman year.

“I played in like eight games my freshman year [at TCU],” said Wade, “and going into the summer I wanted to get out there and play a full nine innings.”

He actually played eleven games as a freshman, but he had a desire to play and improve. He did this by heading to the Coastal Plains League, a collegiate league that includes teams from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Joining the Petersburg Generals in what would be their final season in the league, he and his teammates helped the club to a winning season. According to the coaching staff, it was the first time in many years that they had posted more victories than losses.

“I lived on a farm. That was new to me. I remember my host mom saying, if we want to have a home cooked meal [at night], we need help on the farm this morning,” said Wade, remembering that summer of 2015. “Me and my roommate would wake up around 9:30, if we were home, and decide if we wanted to sleep or have a meal after tonight’s game. It was a lot of fun”

In 28 games for the Generals, Wade hit .311 with a .403 OBP, stealing nine bases and scoring 23 runs, a pretty successful summer and one that primed him to play a more significant role for TCU in his sophomore season. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Horned Frogs, the incoming freshman helped boost the team to another trip to Omaha.

It was midway through his junior season Wade realized he had a chance to be good enough to play professional baseball.

“When I went to school, I was a school-first guy,” said Wade. “Going to school with a little bit of baseball scholarship money kind of helped get through school.”

Selected by the Cleveland organization in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, Wade ended up playing in 36 games for the Rookie-level Mahoning Valley Scrappers, after a season of 63 games in a Horned Frogs uniform.

His .332/.441/.486 triple slash line, coupled with 54 runs scored and 40 RBI, launched him into a professional baseball career. He hit .255 and scored 21 runs in his tour around the New York-Penn League, leaving him primed for a full season league the following year.

The story was a bit different in 2018. He started out at Low-A Lake County, but less than a month into the season he ended up on the injured list for nearly two months. In early July, he headed south for some rehab time in the Arizona League, followed by a very brief swing through Lynchburg on his way back to Lake County, where he was activated off the injured list on July 26.

“Looking back at spring training, that was not the way I would have thought my season would turn out,” said Wade about his 2018 injury time. “I had really set goals for myself, wanting to be in Lynchburg by the middle of the year.”

On August 1, he remained at Lake County. That is when he got the call and learned that he was moving up to Lynchburg. It was fortuitous that his family was there visiting, and got to enjoy his excitement on the promotion.

Joining the Hillcats, who had received Lake County teammate Nolan Jones just a week earlier, Wade would contribute to the Lynchburg team’s run at the second half Northern Division title and a berth in the playoffs to compete for the Mills Cup Championship.

As the 2019 season enters its second week, Wade finds himself on a team loaded with outfield talent. Trenton Brooks and Jodd Carter have extensive experience at the High-A level, fellow center fielder Steven Kwan is among the hottest hitters in the Carolina League, and Oscar Gonzalez is one of Cleveland’s top prospects. Even with all this competition, Wade is excited about the potential for success this year.

“We have a really good offensive team. Our coaching staff is very, [he pauses looking for the right words], I wouldn’t say ‘old school’, but simple in terms of their instructions. We’re going to go out and take care of our business,” said Wade.

With the team off to a 7-5 start, Wade has appeared in eight of 12 games, but has not yet gotten into a groove at the dish. He knows he’ll get his turns in the outfield and in the lineup, but playing time will be challenging with so many talented teammates.

“It really doesn’t matter what lineup we put out there, we’ve got a chance to win,” he said.

Just like his first season at TCU when he was focused on school, Wade will stay focused on individual improvement and doing his best to help the team win when opportunities present themselves.

He completed his degree in finance over the offseason, graduating from TCU in December. Now his full attention will be on baseball for the next five to six months. His track record suggests he’ll find a way to distinguish himself and reach the goals that he has set for himself.

Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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