Coming up through the Red Deer minor baseball Austin Hammond had a goal to play at the university level.
Last fall he accomplished his goal joining the Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C.
“I always aspired to go as far in baseball as I could and definitely wanted to play at a university,” the 19-year-old native of Red Deer said.
Hammond was recruited following a NorWest Midget League contest at Great Chief Park against St. Albert.
“Their assistant coach was at the game and talked to me and a couple of other guys about going there,” said Hammond.
It turned out Hammond and Andrew MacCuaig of Lacombe accepted the offer.
Hammond, who plays third base and pitches, saw limited playing time in his freshman season, although he was four-for-nine at the plate.
He pitched 13 innings, posting a 1-0 record with a solid 3.46 ERA and a team best 0.92 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched).
“They had a veteran third baseman who was ahead of me so I didn’t get to play there a lot, but pitched a bit more,” added Hammond.
But it’s likely his first and last with the VIU Mariners, who plays in a league with Lethbridge, the University of Calgary, Thompson Rivers University at Kamloops and UBC Okanagan.
Last year was also the first season for the Nanaimo program to be associated with VIU.
“They had a program but it wasn’t part of the university,” he said.
He took heavy duty mechanics in school and expects to continue the four-year program at RDC in the fall.
“It makes it tough to go to school and spend the time with the ball team,” he said. “So I’m expecting to continue on here.”
But he did enjoy his time on the Island.
“It was good … I’m glad I went.”
MacCuaig also only batted nine times, with two hits, was used as the team’s closer, finishing with a team-high four saves and 2.61 ERA in 10 and one-third innings.
Hammond, who is an overage with the midget AAA Carstar Braves, got into baseball at an early age and has been playing competitively for the last nine.
“I always liked baseball. I played volleyball and basketball in middle school and some high school (at Lindsay Thurber), but I was mainly interested in ball.”
Hammond gave credit to his coaches for his development coming up through minor baseball, in particular Dwayne Lalor.
“Dwayne was my coach for eight of the last nine years,” he said. “Randy (Gehring) is this year. I learned a lot over the years in all aspects of the game.”
The six-foot-one, 175-pound Austin feels his strength is in the field.
“I’m in the middle of the pack when it comes to hitting and not a power hitter … more of a singles and doubles hitter.”
Austin has played all the infield positions, but says he enjoys third base the most.
“I enjoy the fast pace.”
Hammond is in his final season with the Braves, but not in baseball.
“I want to continue on next year and play at the highest level I can,” he added, looking at the Riggers, the junior Innisfail Merchants or the Red Deer Razorbacks.
But first he’s concentrating on his final season with the Braves.
“We’re near the bottom in Tier I, but we have a good team and when we put it all together we can compete with all the top teams on any given day,” said Hammond, whose younger brother, Levi, plays with the bantam AAA Braves.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com