Special K

Hard work pays off with dynamic senior season for Colorado Mesa's Kaiser

Half the time Austin Kaiser goes to the plate this season for Colorado Mesa, he gets a hit. Kaiser is batting .500 on the season, helping that Mavs win the RMAC regular-season title.

Colorado Mesa outfielder Austin Kaiser stands on a dirt hill at what used to be his house on North Seventh Street. The senior’s house blew up in a natural gas explosion in March of 2013, leaving him with only the clothes on his back and his laptop. Kaiser has persevered through that experience to become one of the toughest outs in college baseball.

He approaches each at-bat based on the situation.

If there’s a runner on third base and one out, Austin Kaiser is focused on lifting the ball in the air so the run can score, even if the ball is caught. If there is a runner on first base, he’ll put down a bunt. Often instead of sacrificing himself, he ends up with a base hit.

This season, the Colorado Mesa University senior outfielder gets a hit more often than not.

He’s leading the nation with a .500 average through Saturday. Kaiser is the only player in all of college baseball, including Division I, hitting better than .500 this late in the season.

“I’m blessed and thankful. However, I want so bad for us to win here as a program,” Kaiser said. “The success I’ve had is sweet, but none of that matters now. We can do some great things. If my success can help us get there, awesome. Even if it doesn’t and we have success, that’s all that matters.

“It’s important to remember I’m not the only one out there. There are 30 other guys out there doing very well as well.”

The ninth-ranked Mavericks (37-10, 31-7 RMAC) have clinched another Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title and will host the RMAC tournament starting Thursday, but they’re hoping to go much deeper into the postseason.

Kaiser is in the top 40 in the nation in nearly every offensive category.

He has 90 hits, 20 doubles, 10 home runs, 52 RBI, 26 stolen bases and 144 total bases. His slugging percentage is .800 and his on-base percentage is .531.

Of his 90 hits, at least 14 are on bunts. That’s what gets Colorado Mesa coach Chris Hanks.

“The mixture of power with that speed component of the bunting game and the stolen bases is unique and interesting,” Hanks said.

“He’s certainly done his part to contribute. He’s a team guy. He’ll be able to continue this if he keeps doing what he’s doing and that’s just trying to win games. I don’t think he’s playing for an average or anything else.”

Kaiser is having so much success, opposing coaches consider walking him every time he comes up to the plate, even with last year’s RMAC player of the year, Nate Robertson, on deck.

“The first time we played them, we intentionally walked him to load the bases to get to the reigning RMAC player of the year,” Colorado School of Mines coach Jerod Goodale said. “It’s one of those things. If you have a base open, you might walk him, but if no one’s on, you have to think about it, because he has the ability to steal bases. Most guys that hit a lot of doubles and home runs don’t run as good.

“When you’re hitting that well, there’s no real set way to pitch a guy. If you leave one over the plate, he’s probably going to hit it well. He doesn’t really have a hole right now from what we’ve seen. He seems to be hitting everybody. You try to keep the ball down and get a ground ball.”

The problem is, Kaiser will beat out a ground ball for a hit.

Kaiser has earned his success through dedication and hours of work in practice.

“I probably attribute it to preparation and hard work,” Kaiser said. “That’s what I’ve been driven to do since my freshman year here. I come out every day and try to be a little bit better. I don’t exactly know why it’s happening how it is, but I’m very thankful for it.”

Kaiser fell one year behind his teammates his freshman season when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand in the fall, but it wasn’t until the spring when his injury was identified. The hamate bone breaks often from the compression force from the knob of the bat from repetitive swings.

As a sophomore he started getting more at-bats, but he still didn’t make the travel squad.

“He never came to the office and said, ‘Where do I stand? Why am I not playing?’ ” Hanks said. “Yet, he was always on time to practice and kept working. That’s why I’m so proud of him. I use him as an example when kids say they don’t want to shag balls at the stadium. Kaiser shagged balls.

“Kaiser doesn’t say, ‘The bar’s too high.’ He says, ‘How do I get there?’ Nobody outworks him anywhere, on the field or in the weight room.”

Even though he wasn’t on the travel squad, Kaiser continued working hard and started hitting balls harder in practice. Hanks noticed.

“I remember telling the coaches, ‘Kaiser squares it up every day. I’m getting an itch to play him.’ One day he went off and was in the lineup the rest of the year.”

Kaiser was a regular in the lineup from that point in 2012 until March 19, 2013, when the house he was living in on North Seventh Street, only a few blocks from Bergman Field, blew up in a natural gas explosion.

Kaiser was at work at the time of the explosion, only an hour before practice. Nobody was home at the time, but all of Kaiser’s possessions were lost.

All Kaiser had were the clothes on his back and his laptop.

“I already had a full plate with baseball and school,” Kaiser said. “All of a sudden here’s another giant bag of stuff you have to take care of every single day just to get my life back together.

“Going to the DMV, Social Security office, the bank, every single day. I lost sleep over it. I was going to bed every single night lying there, ‘What did I not do today? What do I need to do tomorrow?’ I’d forget things I’d have to do because I had to do other things.”

Despite the unexpected circumstance, Kaiser, a devout Christian, said he never questioned God.

“It’s hard, but I had faith in the fact everything happens for a reason,” he said. “There is so much good that’s come out of this I’m thankful for, in terms of the living situation the next year with my roommates.

“We were all going separate ways. Seeing the Lord bless this tragedy in each of our lives and to use people in our community I didn’t know before. I never questioned anything at any point. It was hard, but that’s not where I was doubting.”

Kaiser, whose No. 47 uniform was lost in the explosion, had to wear an different uniform for games until a replacement arrived. He struggled at the plate for a while, but finished with a solid season, hitting .320 with 47 hits and 17 stolen bases.

“I think he handled it with a lot of grace,” Hanks said. “I remember thinking he looked very stressed and tired during that whole ordeal. His play did drop off a little bit, I thought, but he rebounded in the end, but it never affected his work ethic out here. It was just another thing he overcame.”

Things are back to normal now, with new roommates and a new place to live. Kaiser continues to work hard in the classroom and on the baseball field, and he’s being rewarded for it in his final season.

“I’m having way more fun,” Kaiser said. “This is my last year I’ll get to play with these guys. It might be the last year I get to play baseball. I’m coming out and enjoying every day a little bit more.”

He’s become more than another successful player in the program. He’s becoming a draft prospect under the watchful eyes of Major League scouts.

“There’s that possibility (of professional baseball),” Kaiser said. “That’s something I’m praying about. If that’s where the good Lord wants me, that’s where he’ll put me. I also have other aspirations. I’ve been planning on (a career path) the last two years.”

Kaiser was already planning on life after baseball.

The 3.81 GPA student has an internship with Louisville Slugger as a sales and marketing intern lined up this summer. He has also been accepted into the University of Alabama for graduate school. He plans to get his master’s degree in sports management and one day become an athletic director.

“He kept doing well in school, he kept doing what the coaches asked and was always concerned about the team,” Hanks said. “He demonstrates that perseverance, hard work and playing for the right reasons pays dividends.

“Regardless of how this shakes out for him personally, he’s been a tremendous asset to our team. He’s helped us win a lot of games, not just with his bat, but with his hustle and attitude. He’ll be a good story I can share with kids moving forward. There’s more in him and he’ll keep working. I’m really proud of him.”


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