A few of my coworkers and myself made the trip to Burlington to watch Quad Cities take on the Bees and as usual, I brought my camera along. Here are a few shots from last night.
Despite being drafted twice by the Astros, Lancaster starter Austin Chrismon still couldn’t believe that he would be playing professional baseball. It was a long journey to his second draft day after years of preparing for that moment.
“It was a shock. I got a call from the scout and didn’t save his number because I didn’t even think about it,” Chrismon said. “I hadn’t talked to anybody.”
However, the Astros had kept their eyes on Chrismon since high school. Chrismon grew up in Virginia and took after baseball at a young age playing on travel ball teams when he was 10 years old.
“We did a lot of in-state traveling but would go to at least one national tournament out of state,” Chrismon said. “Then in high school, we would go to more college and professional scouting types of tournaments and traveled everywhere and anywhere on the East coast really like North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia.”
He continued to hone his skills on the mound and posted strong numbers during high school earning honors such as being named the U.S. Air Force National Player of the Week and a state title during his junior year. The team was ranked number one in the nation by USA Today, Collegiate Baseball, and Baseball America polls.
“We had a lot of talent on that high school team and we won a lot of games which was really cool,” Chrismon said. “We basically had four or five guys playing Division One baseball after it. We were the first in our district to ever win the state title which is a good accomplishment.”
Despite his success, Chrismon wasn’t expecting to be drafted.
“I was driving home from high school and my buddy called me and he was a big baseball guy and followed all of the draft stuff. He said I was just drafted,” Chrismon said. “I was like no way so I got home and didn’t tell anybody. I checked the computer, saw it, and told me mom. She started crying and was happy. The scout came over to my house and we talked but I decided to go to school instead.”
Chrismon chose to go to East Carolina University playing for two seasons before making the decision to switch schools.
“At the time I committed there, there were a few coaches that I felt comfortable with and really enjoyed playing for. Things didn’t really pan out the way I thought it would because once I got there, there was a new pitching coach,” Chrismon said. “I wasn’t as comfortable there as I would have thought so I decided to transfer.”
He transferred to his hometown to continue playing at Christopher Newport University.
“I’ve grown up going to baseball games there and have known the coach pretty much my whole life. It wasn’t like a last resort and was the first school that I thought if I transferred I could play immediately,” Chrismon said. “I called up the coach, filled out an application, and eventually got in. I felt like it was just fun to keep playing. It’s really comfortable for me there and when I go home in the fall, I go to their games and practices and talk to them. I enjoyed my time there.”
After his junior year, Chrismon was playing in a collegiate summer league when he got the call that the Astros had taken him again.
“I only had the one area scout contact me in April and sent me a questionnaire and said he would also like to send me a redraft sheet because they were interested in selecting me,” Chrismon said. “But then nobody called me so when the draft came up, it was one of the last things on my mind. So the scout called me saying the Astros were going to pick me in the 26th round and wanted to see if I would sign. I didn’t even need to think about it and said yes.”
Chrismon said his whole family went into shock.
“I hadn’t talked to the scout in two months. I called my mom and she was like you’re kidding because we hadn’t heard anything. It was a huge surprise and I was really fortunate to get another chance,” Chrismon said. “I got to my summer ball game and talked to my coach because I was supposed to pitch that night’s game. He was happy for me. I went home the next day and three days after that I was in Greeneville, Tennessee.”
Coming into it, Chrismon said he knew it would be different than high school and college ball but that everything has exceeded his expectations.
“Every level that I’ve been to, the Astros have been first-class from the stadiums to the staff to the fans and it’s everything that I hoped it would be,” Chrismon said. “That’s really been a blessing because you hear the stories about how other teams are treated.”
Chrismon has risen to the occasion at each level he has played in with strong numbers and awards like being named a Midwest League All-Star this season but said what makes him happiest is still being able to play.
“It’s been great and I just try to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and see how far it takes me,” Chrismon said. “I don’t think about my results too much. It’s just one of those things I’ve done my whole life, just go out there, compete, and see what happens. I do my best and hopefully that’s enough to where I can get a chance to keep moving up and hopefully win a championship.”
New Mexico. It’s a state not necessarily known for baseball but it’s where current Quad Cities River Bandits shortstop Alex Bregman calls home and where he learned how to play the game.
Bregman’s family has been involved in the sports industry for several generations which eventually led to his family’s relocation to the Land of Enchantment.
“My great-grandfather was big into boxing and knew a lot of fighters like Muhammed Ali and my grandfather was an attorney for the Washington Senators back in the day. He helped negotiate the biggest contract in Major League history at the time to Ritchie Allen and helped move the team from Washington to Texas,” Bregman said. “My dad and his brother got scholarships for baseball at the University of New Mexico and moved out there so that’s where they stayed.”
Bregman said that while his dad only played for one year, he developed a long-lasting love for the sport.
“My dad only played for one year but his first ever at-bat he hit a walk-off home run and ever since he’s been big into baseball.”
That love of the game was passed down to Alex. The Bregmans were also heavily involved in the Albuquerque sports scene which gave him a peek into the inner workings of both the basketball and baseball industries.
“When I was about 12 years old, my parents bought a minor league basketball team called the Albuquerque Thunderbirds. About four or five years ago, they sold to the Cleveland Cavaliers and they moved the team to Canton, Ohio,” Bregman said. “I grew up in the draft rooms of the D-League team. My parents own a suite at the Isotopes which is the Triple-A team there so I grew up going to all of those games. My dad would come home from work every day when I was little and bring me baseball cards from different guys. I collected them and started loving the game.”
Bregman said he always knew he wanted to be involved in sports and that baseball was a perfect fit for him.
“Baseball is the sport I love the most. As soon as I put a ball and bat in my hand, I knew I wanted to play baseball,” Bregman said. “I’ve played on a travel team ever since I was nine years old and took lessons at the Albuquerque Baseball Academy and just worked on evolving from there.”
After being invited to try out, the then 15-year-old Bregman became the newest member of Team USA and traveled the world with the team four times playing in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Japan, the Netherlands, and Cuba winning two gold medals.
“I got to try out for Team USA and made it. That’s when I knew I could play at this level and starting dedicating everything in my life to baseball. It was cool to represent our country,” Bregman said. “And it was cool to see fans in other countries. We played in Mexico when I was 16 and got to play in front of 20,000 people. Cuba was sold out and people were sitting on the outfield walls. You just saw the love of baseball there and all over the world really.”
While in high school, Bregman won two gold medals with Team USA, won the baseball state championship with his high school team, and garnered multiple awards including being the first high schooler to be named the USA Baseball Richard W. “Dick” Case Player of the Year award. All signs pointed to him being selected in the first round of the MLB draft out of high school until an injury derailed his plans.
“I wanted to sign. I was expecting to sign and four games into my senior season, I broke my middle finger and had to have surgery. After that, I told every team to take me in the first round or I would go to school. I got called in the second round and turned down seven figures to go to school. It ended up being the best decision in the long run.”
A skilled surgeon meant less rehab time and Bregman was able to return to playing within eight to ten weeks after being told the injury could have sidelined him for six months. After a lot of thought into his decision, Bregman chose Louisiana State University to continue his baseball career.
“I was really interested in going to New Mexico but I needed to get away and grow up a little bit and be on my own away from my parents. Once I went to Baton Rouge, I fell in love with the campus,” Bregman said. “It’s a community that really cares about their sports. In the spring, you walk around or go into a Quizno’s and you’re a household name. Then you get to play in front of 13,000 people who know the game and know in the seventh inning with two outs and the bases are loaded to get on their feet and get crazy. Just having that fan base behind you is really awesome.”
Bregman was a leader on the team and continued to rack up honors including being named a First-Team All-American and National Freshman of the Year by multiple national publications including Baseball America, Perfect Game, and the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was also an integral part of the team as they made the trip to Omaha for a shot at the College World Series Championship.
“The whole goal of going to college is to try to make it to the World Series. We had a really good run this year. We were ranked number one for ten weeks in a row during the season and being one of the leaders of that team was a dream come true for me,” Bregman said. “This is the second time and we got one win there this year. It was a cool experience and something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
With the college season over, Bregman gathered with his family, friends, teammates, and coaches in the Champions Club area at the LSU field on draft day waiting in anticipation to hear his name called.
“There were about 200 people there supporting me. I didn’t know anything until about five minutes before the draft and I had heard that I would go anywhere from number one to number three,” Bregman said. “About 30 seconds before the pick, I was really excited to know I was about to be an Astro. I don’t think it could have been a better fit than this organization. They’re just a young, energetic organization that’s on the rise. Once I heard my name, I blacked out. I don’t ever remember what happened. It was something you work for your whole life and when it happens, it’s crazy.”
Bregman was assigned to the Quad Cities River Bandits for his first season. He said growing up around front offices has helped him with the transition and he hopes to continue learning as much as he can.
“Being in front offices helped with the knowledge of seeing how it’s a business, how people act, and how relationships work,” Bregman said. “I’m learning a lot from the coaching staff and all of the instructors that have come in and am trying to soak it all in, learn how to be a pro, and become as good a baseball player as I can while I’m here.”
And to top it all off, Bregman said he’s proud to continue the family tradition and make them proud of him.
“They’re so excited. My little brother is on top of the world. My dad is keeping up with every pitch back home. My mom is wearing her lucky shirt whenever we have a game,” Bregman said. “It’s just a really fun time for my family and I’m glad they’re able to experience it with me.”