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Butch Austin a true patriot A special publication of The Messenger


Butch Austin Commemorative Edition • Saturday, May 31, 2014

Page 2

‘Coach Butch’ has been a legend for decades By Dan Smith TPRD DIRECTOR

When you generally describe outfield light poles, you do not expect them to actually be in the outfield. But as Butch Austin was standing on the infield grass talking to Charles Henderson High School head baseball coach Mike Hogan about joining the Trojans as an assistant baseball coach in 1978, sure enough, there were the light poles in left center and center field. “I remember the outfielders had to run in front of them, behind then and beside them to catch fly balls,” Austin recalls. A lot has changed in the 36 years since Butch Austin accepted that assistant coaching job with Mike Hogan, but the constant from that year to this final season in Austin’s career has been one thing. Winning. Austin coached with Hogan from 1978 to 1990, during a strong era of baseball at CHHS, an era that put CHHS baseball on the map in the state. He returned to farming following the 1990 season, but in 1993 Austin was persuaded by headmaster Delaney Kervin to come to Pike Liberal Arts, and with his arrival, Austin built a championship baseball program. Recently Austin coached his final game at PLAS, fittingly in the state finals. He does not call it retirement, as he wants to still be involved with baseball in some capacity, but the mark he has left on two baseball fields, two baseball programs, and the shaping of lives of countless young men is immeasurable. “I could talk to Coach Butch about a lot of things,” said former PLAS standout and current Troy

SUBMITTED PHOTO Butch Austin (left) coached alongside Mike Hogan (right) for a handful season at Charles Henderson in the 1970s and 1980s.

University Trojan Will Starling. “Me and Coach Butch were close. He is old school and straight forward. He taught me a lot, as did my family, but he did a great job really teaching me how to grow up and how to be a man.” If you have never met Butch Austin, imagine a man that looks somewhat like former NFL offensive lineman Merlin Olson, but speaks in a strong, quite, no-nonsense voice of Clint Eastwood. During the four years a young man is in high school, there are many paths that present themselves. Being shown the right path is more important than being shown how to grip a slider, but Coach Austin had a gift for teaching both. Austin has always lived in Pike County, and played all sports at Pike County High. In 1957 he was given a tryout with the

Pittsburgh Pirates, and was offered a minor league contract, but choose instead to go to Auburn. Work eventually took the place of school, and farming and raising cattle became his life. When Hogan asked Austin to help, Hogan gave Austin the responsibility of pitchers and hitters. The assignment quickly paid off, and Hogan and Austin were a coaching pair as strong as new rope. Hogan was a baseball man full of fire, intensity, motivation and good-old-fashioned baseball grit, while Austin could see things with his eye normal men could not see. He had the ability to correct and improve pitching and hitting, in a quite, confident, strongly sure manner. “I want to thank Coach Hogan for the opportunity to coach,”

Austin said. “He is a friend of mine and I love him to death.” In 2012 when Austin and the Patriots won the AISA state baseball championship, one of those to greet Austin on the field during the celebration was indeed, Mike Hogan. Austin has had support at both schools, and the appreciation goes both ways. His jersey number is retired at each school, and the baseball field at PLAS is named in his honor. Uniquely, each school claims Butch Austin as theirs. The progress at Pike is also a direct reflection of the guidance of Austin. “When I first came to Pike, we played maybe 13 games in a season,” Austin said. “Now we play around 40. We always set goals to be in the playoffs, to win the area and to be in the finals of the

state championship.” At Pike, Austin won 422 games, guided the Patriots in claiming the state championship in 2012, led them to the finals six times, the semifinals 12 times, and were in the playoffs every year but two. Things are slowing down now that baseball season is over, at least a little bit. Austin still farms and raises cattle, although not as much as he once did. “I just want to rest a little bit, but still stay around baseball,” Austin said. “I would like to stay around the kids and baseball. I know the game, and the kids always have been good to me.” There were many people Austin mentioned that needed to be thanked, which is his humble style, but he made sure to mention his wife Joyce. “She supported me when I would come home so many late nights from games or practices, while she was home by herself,” Austin said. Austin had the privilege of coaching his son Buddy at CHHS, who later became a Troy State baseball star, and Austin now looks forward to seeing Buddy’s son Will play baseball in Georgia. “He’s a really good player, he can fly, and is a good boy,” Austin said. One of Buddy’s teammates at CHHS was Ricky Knotts. Knotts was a dominant pitcher for the Trojans from 1978-1980, and quickly learned to respect Mike Hogan and Butch Austin for the unique strengths and qualities each of them possessed, respect for each of them he still carries to this day. “My wife always asks me why LEGEND continued on page 3


Butch Austin Commemorative Edition • Saturday, May 31, 2014

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LEGEND: Austin historic career dates back to the 1970s I am driving so slow when we come back to Troy,” said Knotts, who lives in Birmingham today. “I tell her I do not want to get a ticket, because if I do, I do not want my parents, Mr. Butch or Coach Hogan to find out.” Knotts went on to set records as a pitcher at Troy State University, and was later named to the TSU Baseball Hall of Fame. “Years ago I was on business in Dothan, and a guy came up to me and said, ‘You’re Ricky Knotts, aren’t you?’” Knotts said. “I knew who he was, he was the former head baseball coach at Ashford High.” The man went on to say to Knotts, “I just want to let you know, you guys beat us when you stepped off that bus. That was your reputation. You had great coaches in Mr. Butch and Coach Hogan. I always told my players, Charles Henderson is coming to town, so you have got to get ready.” Knotts remembers Austin as being a great pitching coach and observer of the game. “He commanded respect,” Knotts said. “He taught me to have ice in my veins when I was on the mound and there were two outs, the score was 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th. He taught me that I was still in command, and that I could make things happen.

From Page 2

“Mr. Butch was the first pitching coach I had that knew how to scout the opposing team. He always told me there were two or three guys that could beat you, and he taught me to move the ball around in the strike zone and especially pitch inside.” Catchers for CHHS always knew Knotts would pitch

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inside, and did not mind hitting someone. “My catcher Phillip East used to come up to me and say, ‘Don’t worry if they charge the mound, because if you hit them I will tackle them before they get to you’,” Knotts said. “When I was a freshman in college, I was pitching in a fall game and Coach Chase Riddle asked me who taught me to pitch inside, and I pointed up the hill to Mr. Butch and said ‘That man right there.’” Austin may or may not be in the third base coaches box next season or the next, but the impact he has left on the lives on many young men will be felt for years and years to come. Some of his former players are now preachers, doctors and prominent business men, and he has coached some of his former players’ sons. You can also bet the right path has been shown to many others about to go out on their own. There is more to life than baseball, but because of baseball, Butch Austin has given many the knowledge of life that can not be acquired in a textbook. Dan Smith is a former sports editor for The Messenger and is now the director of Troy Parks and Recreation Department.

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Butch Austin Commemorative Edition • Saturday, May 31, 2014

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‘No doubt about it, I was the lucky one’ Butch Austin reflects on his historic 30-plus year career By Ryan McCollough THE MESSENGER

FILE PHOTO

Butch Austin is proud of what his teams were able to accomplish in over 30 years of coaching baseball in troy.

Butch Austin says he lost count of how many trips he made to the third base coach’s box “sometime around 2000.” Austin is known for having a slow, methodical walk across the diamond. On the walk, Austin said he usually pondered strategy. But his his last trip across the field wasn’t spent thinking about strategy. With his team trailing Glenwood 5-1 in the final inning of a state championship game, Austin climbed the dugout steps at Paterson Field and made the trip to the box. “I wasn’t thinking about

strategy that time,” Austin said with a smirk. “That walk was a time I got to think about a lot of things. I think I thought about every team we ever had during that time. We had some good ones over the years, but there is no doubt about it, I was the lucky one.” While Austin is best remembered for his 21 years at Pike Liberal Arts, he got his coaching start at Charles Henderson in the late 1970s. Brought as an assistant by head coach Mike Hogan, Austin helped establish the then Troy High School Trojans as an Alabama powerhouse. During Austin’s time in

orange and navy, the Trojans played for the state championship four times, Austin never was able to win a title at Charles Henderson, something he says hurt him. “I wanted to win one so bad, but not for me,” said Austin. “I wanted to win it for Coach Hogan. He did so much for me and I just wanted to give him a title. We never were able to do it, but we tried hard every year and we still talk about those times.” While Austin never could get a title at Charles Henderson, he REFLECT continued on page 5

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Butch Austin Commemorative Edition • Saturday, May 31, 2014

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REFLECT: Austin remembers each moment of career did win one at Pike Liberal Arts. Pike downed Tuscaloosa Academy 15-10 in 2012 to claim the AISA State Championship. The first person to congratulate Austin was a familiar face. “Coach Hogan was there and he was the first person to talk to me after the game,” Austin said. “He gave me a hug and told me ‘We finally got one.’ It meant as much to him as it did to me. I am proud that we were able to win it finally. They boys worked hard that year, and they deserved to win that championship.” Speaking of the championship, Austin still smiles when remembering “his favorite baseball game of all time.” Pike trailed Tuscaloosa 10-1 in the fifth inning, before the Patriots mounted an epic comeback. The Pats plated 14 runs in the fifth inning to claim a wild win and the championship. “That day is something that I will never forget,” Austin said. “There were so many folks there that wanted to see us win. It didn’t start out great, but those young’uns never got down. They kept playing hard and it paid off. I was finally able to win one, but I wanted those boys to win it more. It is my most favorite game ever.” Austin won 422 games in 21 seasons at Pike Liberal, but perhaps the biggest impact he had was on the facilities.

From Page 4

When Austin first arrived on top of the hill on Kervin Drive, the field that now bears his name was nothing to be proud of. “It was a sand pit on the infield and the outfield wall was nothing but an old hog wire fence,” Austin said. “The fence was half knocked down and there were holes everywhere. We worked on a lot over the years and have been able to build, what I think, is the best ball field in the AISA.” The teams that played on Pike’s refurbished fields were some of the best in the history of the AISA. The short left field porch, that first had a net screen on top of it and later an extended metal wall, saw dozens of home runs from Pike stars. The sand pit on the infield turned into one of the best-manicured fields in the state. Only one of Austin’s 10 total trips to the state finals ended with a championship trophy, but as Austin walked off the field for the final time in early May, the thoughts of a 30-year career came pouring back. “Of course you want to win every game you play,” Austin said. “But now, I can look back and see all the boys that played and all the good folks I came in contact with. Baseball has been good to me and I thank everyone that let me be a part of the son’s life. They helped me, but I am the one who learned the most.”

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Butch Austin Commemorative Edition • Saturday, May 31, 2014

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Butch Austin Commemorative Edition • Saturday, May 31, 2014

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I still use Coach’s lessons to this day A high school coach will impact many lives over the course of a career. Some, like Butch Austin, will make an even deeper impression. It takes a special person to get the best from an athlete both on and off the field. That is exactly what Coach Butch, as his players know him, was able to do in the 30 years he spent as a coach and role model. Coach Butch had a way of saying a lot without speaking a word. He treated his players like the men he was helping them become. As a catcher for Coach Butch at Pike Liberal Arts, I was a part of numerous mound visits. No matter the situation, he would stroll to the bump in the center of the diamond and look us square in the eyes and say what he had to say.

By Wes Johnson PLAS CLASS OF 2003

Sometimes you liked it, sometimes you didn’t. But it was always the truth. As an adult, I appreciate that even more. I still talk to Coach Butch on a regular basis and no matter the topic of conversation or kind of advice I’m seeking, he says what he believes to be true and that’s all you can ask from a friend. Coach Butch and his wife, Joyce, have always been there for me as well as so

many other former players. There is nothing I can’t talk to him about and nothing he won’t help me work through. These are not the qualities of a great coach, but the qualities of a great person. The last time I played for Coach Butch was in May 2003, and I’ll admit that my eyes got a little moist. It wasn’t because I had played my last high school game and we lost in the final four, it was because I felt that I had let him down by not getting him the state title he deserved. That’s why we played the game; we talked about it all the time. “We’ve got to win one for Coach Butch.” We didn’t win one for Coach Butch and that upset a lot of us. When Pike won the 2012 AISA State Championship, I was there. I watched from field level as Coach

Butch dove into the dog pile, as his players carried him off the field a champion and the pure joy on his face. State titles are about the young men who earn them, but for former players like myself, it was about Coach Butch. I received several phone calls that day from former teammates asking about him and saying how happy they were that he finally “got one”. There are so many lessons that he taught us as players, some I don’t live by, some that I do. But, he’s always there for us and whether he knows it or not, we, his players, are always there for him. Wes Johnson, a former sports editor at The Messenger, works in athletic media relations at Troy University. He graduated from PLAS in 2003.

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THE MESSENGER W W W. T R O Y M E S S E N G E R . C O M



Butch Austin, A True Patriot