BRISTOL - Every time he steps up to the plate, Austin White grabs the barrel of his bat and with the knob, traces the letters “PW” into the dirt lying just outside the batter’s box.
It doesn’t matter where he’s playing or what team he’s played on. Whether it was at Portland High School, at the University of Rhode Island during a breakout sophomore season, or at his current stop as one of the best leadoff hitters in the FCBL, the Bristol Blues’ left-handed center fielder engraves the initials of his mother, Pam White, into the ground.
“You won’t catch me not doing it,” White said.
The ritual began during his freshman season at Portland where he was used mainly as a pinch runner on the 2014 state champion squad. After recording an out in his first at-bat with the Highlanders, he put the initials into the dirt his next time up, and he got a hit to finish 1-for-2 for the season. More than five years later, it’s still part of his routine to honor the woman who is Austin’s biggest supporter, toughest critic and, in a way, was his first hitting coach.
Pam was the one who first fostered 3-year-old Austin’s dream of becoming a Major League player, one that became stronger when he turned 7. The two spent hours on the cul-de-sac in their front yard, where she would throw him 100 wiffle balls a day.
“That’s where he developed his love of the game,” Pam said.
Austin eventually became old enough to hit the waffle balls down the road, drawing the neighbors’ attention by rocketing them into the trees that lined the street or tattooing them down to the dead end of the road.
After that, Austin had to graduate to a real baseball field, where he began his almost tireless efforts of hitting 100 baseballs with his father, Kevin, at the two baseball fields that stand next to each other outside Portland High School.
“From sunset to sundown. We’d show up to the field at 4 and leave at like 7:30 or 8 o’clock,” Austin said. “I didn’t leave until I hit every ball good.”
During those batting practice sessions, his father, also a lefty and a former CCSU football player whom Austin said “had never touched a baseball in his life,” would throw the then 13-year-old inside fastballs and sliders from 30 feet away and mix in knuckleballs, leading to several yelling battles.
“I’d miss them and start screaming at him, ‘Why are you throwing me knuckleballs?! I’m not gonna see any knuckleballs!’” Austin recalls.
Austin still hasn’t faced any knuckleballs in live game action, but he does still play with a chip on his shoulder. He always has, ever since he came out of a small-town high school where nobody thought much of him. People knew he was a good ball player, but at 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, they didn’t believe he could play at the Division I level.
“But I showed them I could,” said Austin, who was second at URI in 2019 in batting average (.298), stolen bases (13) and walks (34) and ranked first in runs scored (36) in addition to his .416 on-base percentage.
“Honestly, I like the negativity more than people telling me [compliments] and all that stuff,” Austin added. “Negativity, for me, just fuels me. It’s fun. It’s like you’re giving someone the bird after you do something good.”
Austin has carried that momentum from his sophomore season with him to the Blues, where his numbers in those same stats rank among the best in the league: .340 average (tied for fifth), 20 stolen bases, 31 walks, 31 runs scored, .500 OBP (all league-bests).
After the Blues season wraps up, Austin will head into the biggest year of his career, a junior campaign that could go a long way in determining whether or not he will be an MLB Draft selection and get the chance to fulfill that lifelong professional dream.
“Most kids would say [they’re nervous], but it’s all up to me,” Austin said. “There’s nothing to be worried about. It’s what I’m gonna try to do. It’s what I need to do. It’s more exciting than nervousness.”
Kevin and Pam, who watch from the Muzzy Field stands at almost every home game, will be there the entire way. They never left, feeding his dream through some tough love and pushing him to never settle.
“I don’t believe in everybody gets a trophy,” Pam said. “He didn’t grow up like that. If he lost a championship and came in second, that trophy meant nothing. He had a goal. He has a job. This is his job. We do everything in our power to let him come out and play.”
Pam says this from the Muzzy bleachers at a July 1 game against the Nashua Silver Knights, and she lets out a load groan as she sees him stroke a long fly ball to right field that gets caught at the warning track.
It’s a bit jaw-dropping, she believes, that Austin is now roping pitches here at 19 years old, being watched by scouts from the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds. That’s because at 14, when he played at Muzzy for the Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland team of the American Legion, Pam would tell him he might be playing here one day in college.
She would then tell him he could someday become a pro, despite the backlash from those around her.
“There are people, ever since he was little, say, ‘Why would you tell him he could be a Major League Baseball player?’” she says. “I’d say, ‘There are doctors, lawyers, nurses. There are Major League Baseball players.’ Somebody has to play. Why? Are you gonna tell him no?”
Pam remains simultaneously supportive and critical, and so does Kevin.
“If they didn’t push me the way they did, I don’t think I’m playing baseball at the Division I level,” Austin said.
That’s why, when Pam sees her son trace her initials into the dirt, it remains humbling for her. This entire journey began 16 years ago in that little front yard.
“It’s been a dream since he was 3 years old, and I would never tell him no,” Pam said. “But the biggest part was just letting him know he’s gotta do it. We can’t do it for him. We can give him every tool we have available and get him to where he needs to be. But at this level and the college level, it’s up to him.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org