September 21, 2014

Go Austin! Go!

I have always struggled to give my kids the best opportunities in life. Often, I am severely constrained by time, money and location. As a result, I will take big risks to put them in learning situations beyond all of our comfort zones...I can not afford high end private schools. I am sure they will need therapy in their adult life to compensate for some of my risk taking with their learning.

But...there has rarely been a dull moment. Especially, for Austin and baseball.

In 2007...due to career repositioning...I found myself in Seoul, Korea. I told myself I would only be staying 4 months...but deep inside I saw this as a huge opportunity.

Because I am deeply passionate about my family as well as my career, I dragged them all to also take part in the opportunity. To advance their education, I found art schools for my daughters and a high level baseball team for Adam and Austin...the Dongbu Eagles. It was actually a feeder team that puts boys on track to the Korean professional leagues and beyond.

This was not going to be easy...for any of us.

The Dongbu Eagles and their coach were a hard driving baseball club. They practiced 7 days a week from morning until sundown. This amount of practice and intensity gave the boys a solid foundation in the fundamentals of baseball...but at great sacrifice. 

BTW: at least one of Dongbu alumni made it to the American MLB...Jae Kuk Ryu...and actually played for a brief time with the Chicago Cubs...

In 2008, the Dongbu Eagles were ranked 4 in the nation (Korea). So, Austin had some serious competition to adjust to...if he was going to play. At first, the coach was quite skeptical and felt that both boys would sit the bench. However, Austin rose to the occasion and won a spot in the starting line up. Awesome! Unfortunately, at least one Korean player was not happy about this. There were grumblings on the team. It was quite difficult for Austin...on many levels.

Eventually, Austin won over the hearts and minds of his team he always does.

The pressure was immense for a kid that age. Austin soon found him self attracting attention. Being one of only 2 Americans (Adam was the other American) in all of Korea to ever play little league baseball, Austin was often in the spot light. This climaxed during an ESPN broadcast of the national championships in 2008.

To my relief, Austin composed himself gracefully...even though Dongbu got killed and he struck out.

The coach even let him pitch a few innings during the championship game. I would have peed my pants! Overall, I believe Dongbu ended up 4th in the nation that year.

Each year the team traveled to the south of Korea for a tournament in Pohang. Often, we found ourselves in some picturesque settings. In the background of the school yard (above) is the sacred Seoroksan National Park mountain range.

In 2009 Austin continued to be a crowd pleaser. That year, Austin is received the most improved player award.

We were all proud of him...especially his younger brother Adam who has always looked up to Austin. These were very formative years for both boys.

Coach Jung Kyung-ha is a very dedicated man of baseball. He has been coaching Dongbu since 1984 and has been totally focused on the team and the boys ever since. I do not believe he has a family other than the team. He is a baseball monk in my opinion. And I mean that in the best sense.

Though I did not know it at the time, he was the only coach in the Korean little league association to extend an offer for Adam and Austin to play. We will always be grateful for this.

However, Korea was not the end of Austin’s baseball story. Soon he was back in the US playing for his high school team, the Portage Central Mustangs...honing the skills that he acquired in Korea.

Austin did great!

In Portage, Austin was a great all around player...from the outfield, to the infield and to the mound...but as I am often fond of doing, I did not let him stay in the comfort zone of a suburban high school baseball team for long...

So, in Chicago, I dragged him to Morgan Park High School to try out for the Cubs RBI team program. Once again, Austin was out of his comfort zone..and up against some serious well as kids from a completely different culture.
Austin made it through the awkwardness of the tryouts on that hot summer day and made the Cubs RBI 16 year old travel team.

During the week, Austin played in Hyde Park with his RBI training team.

During the weekends, we traveled all over the state of Illinois as Austin played on the Cubs RBI travel team coached. The team was coached by a tough Chicago Police officer, Dave Diaz. He was also the coach for Roberto Clemente High School baseball team at the of the best baseball teams in Chicagoland.

Austin was a solid player and a starter for the Cubs RBI, but for some reason did not get to travel down to St. Louis for the championship game. Just as well, we were all traveled out by that weekend. One thing in the US...traveling for baseball is brutal. Expensive and your weekends are owned by the tournaments...same as Korea.

BTW...The Cubs RBI program is headed by Ernest Radcliffe, who happens to the (great?) grandson of one of the greatest baseball players of all time: Double Duty Radcliffe. Coach Radcliffe an ex-ball-player himself is a great motivator and positive force to a lot troubled kids in the south side of Chicago.

After this experience, Austin was soon he was back in Portage on his high school team, the Mustangs.

Austin is now developing physical strength that is enabling his hitting and running game to prosper.

His on base average usually lands him a top spot in the line up...on any team.

The Mustangs also like him to pitch from time to time, though he feels he will be an outfielder in college.

One of Austin’s Portage Central High School coaches got him hooked up with an awesome team in Chicago, the Norwood Blues. They are a high level club that is a stepping stone to the collegiate leagues and above.

The Blues are a step up in competition where Austin would find himself playing with kids as old as college freshman...once again...out of his comfort zone.

Coached by Richard Pildes of Taft High School in Chicago...who I can confidently say that he is one of the best high school coaches in the US...the Norwood Blues are a class act. And Pildes has one thing in mind...winning. However, he is more of a transformational coach than a transactional coach. He helps boys find their strengths and ways they can contribute to the team. By understanding your core competencies, you are better able to make a difference to your team when it is needed.

Coach Pildes has recruited a group of talented kids that are serious about the game of baseball. They will undoubtedly benefit from his teachings where ever they end up in life...the MLB or not.

It is not surprising that Coach Pildes has a disproportionate amount of Blues and Taft alumni at the college level and in the MLB. But I bet this is the first time he has coached someone like Austin... ;)

While not the most outstanding my humble opinion, Austin is the most outstanding person on the team.

All in has offered great experiences for Austin on his journey of self discovery...and we are are all proud of his accomplishments.

However...Austin’s interests go beyond his baseball endeavors. He spent the latter part of the 2014 summer at the Second City Improve Camp for Teens. Here he seemed to enjoy the stage...his comedy, not surprisingly, is more physical at this phase. And...this fall...Austin won a lead in the Portage Central comedy play, Midusmmer Jersey where he’ll be playing Lyle.

He is still playing baseball on a fall team in Portage...I am sure the Blues miss him...we all do.

Go Austin! Go!

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