Austin Wates grew up in Seattle, so being on the West Coast isn’t a new experience for the former Virginia Tech star. Still, it took him a while to get used to life in Lancaster, Calif., and at the high-Class A level of the minor leagues.
Wates, the Houston Astros’ third-round pick last year after helping the Hokies reach the NCAA tournament, hit .280 in his first month in the California League. The outfielder hasn’t had a sub-.300 month since April and his 14-for-36 tear in August (for a .389 average) has boosted him to 11th in the league at .314 for the season. He’s also 20 for 26 in stolen bases.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any easier; it’s just that I’m getting acclimated to professional baseball,” Wates said in a telephone interview Monday. “It’s more knowing your body and what you need to do before and after games.”
Coming out of high school, Wates received scholarship offers in baseball and soccer. He could have played soccer at UCLA.
“I played forward, a little midfielder,” Wates said. “It wasn’t something I was too passionate about. It was more of a secondary option. I thought about trying to play both, but I really needed to just focus on one of them along with the schoolwork.”
Wates said he likely would have chosen baseball at Washington or Washington State had his mother not had a job offer in the drama department at Virginia Commonwealth. With the family’s move to Richmond, Wates wanted to play somewhere within driving distance.
Though Tawnya Pettiford-Wates and retired Pepsi employee Luther Wates are spending part of this summer in Scotland helping with an acting workshop, they have been able to visit their son in Lancaster, which is about 70 miles from Los Angeles.
“My family came out for my dad’s 60th birthday,” Wates said. “Plus my old roommate [former Hokies pitcher Danny Farris] is from L.A. and lives out here.
“At first it was a little bit different because Lancaster’s a pretty small town, but it has been a real good situation.”