Meet the OKC RedHawks' guitar man

Outfielder Austin Wates taught himself to play the instrument, and takes it along on road trips.
by Jacob Unruh Published: July 9, 2014
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Austin Wates was looking for an outlet a few years ago.

Then while playing at Corpus Christi in the Class AA Texas League, the outfielder found it in the form of music, picking up a guitar and expanding on the love of music he’s shared with his family as long as he can remember.

“It’s a blessing in disguise,” Wates said. “It helps me take my mind off baseball. If it’s personal-life issues or whatever it is, that’s something I can always fall back on.”

Wates fits the mold of a prototypical minor league story. During his long journey, he’s taught himself how to play the guitar he takes on road trips while with the Oklahoma City RedHawks trying to earn a spot with the rebuilding Houston Astros.

Now, he’s just waiting to catch his break.

‘NATURE OF THE BEAST’

Wates was a third-round pick in the 2010 draft by the Houston Astros out of Virginia Tech, but his career has not gone as he had hoped.

Injuries have been the main deterrent, limiting him to 38 games last season and 55 thus far this season. They haven’t been normal injuries, either.

Last season, he missed a significant chunk of time after suffering a fractured forearm when he was hit by a pitch.

This season, he missed around three weeks after injuring his groin on a throw from the outfield. Two games after his return, he lost a fly ball in the sun and it hit him in the face, fracturing his orbital bone.

“Injuries are part of the game, unfortunately he’s been hit every year,” RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “He’s always trying to play catch up.”

Wates is healthy now and hitting .300 with 22 stolen bases, numbers right on par with his previous seasons. He’s battling for a spot in an organization crowded with young, talented outfielders.

“That’s just the nature of the beast,” Wates said. “A lot of guys talk about it being crowded, but at the same time how much more crowded is it in the Yankees’ minor league system with all of the great big leaguers they have in the big leagues, or the Angels or whoever it might be?

“We don’t have a ton of established players in the big leagues right now, so it’s guys down here fighting for jobs up there. It’s one of those things you’ve got to keep grinding it out and get an opportunity.”

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by Jacob Unruh
Reporter
Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the...
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