- Name: Austin Pruitt
- Age: 30
- Organization: Durham Bulls, Houston Cougars, Navarro Junior College, College Park High School
(Photo courtesy: University of Houston Athletic Communications.)
Author: Patrick Kinas, DNAOfSports.com creator.
The official Triple-A roster was posted on the board, and for the first time, Austin Pruitt’s name was included. His next step toward realizing his major league dream was realized.
The Tampa Bay Rays have provided him with the most recognizable stage – and mound – in minor league baseball. What happens next is up to him.
“I saw the list and saw my name up there and I was pretty stoked,” Pruitt said. “I know what kind of atmosphere and what kind of place this (Durham) is. The Bulls are good every year, one of the top winning programs, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Growing up in The Woodlands, Texas, Pruitt is a Texan through and through. Despite most of the state ardent Dallas Cowboys fans, Pruitt is extremely partial to his hometown team, the NFL’s Houston Texans. He grew up an Astros fan, with his family taking in a game or two on occasion.
His dad (Gary) has seen his son’s game evolve, and his car’s odometer spin through thousands of miles to witness his outings first-hand, including 1,201 miles – one-way – to see his Triple-A debut with Durham.
“He drove from 5:30am until he arrived at his hotel at 1am,” Pruitt said. “I’m super glad that he was able to drive out to see my debut. The next day, we hung out at the hotel and watched some TV.”
Pruitt’s father was Austin’s coach until he was a freshman at College Park High.
“He was always real hard on me, and I always tried to make him proud,” Pruitt said. “My parents are some really great people. They raised me up to be a good young adult with values and morals. They’re good people to look up to.”
To characterize Pruitt as a late-bloomer would be mostly accurate. But the bloom continues to become more vivid.
“I didn’t get a Division I offer out of high school,” Pruitt said. “I wasn’t upset about not getting drafted. I didn’t expect it.”
It was a fateful conversation Pruitt had with a high school rival that pushed him to one of the top junior college programs in the South.
“Brett Parsons had committed to Navarro Junior College, and he was a pretty good ballplayer in high school,” Pruitt said. “He played against us at a rival high school and I saw that he was going there, and that same school was talking to me. So I gave him a call and talked to him about it. The school was awesome. It was the best years of school and baseball that I’ve experienced. I had a great time there.”
For Pruitt, playing baseball wasn’t explicitly about reaching the majors. It was more of a progression of motivation and fun.
“I always played just because it was fun,” Pruitt said. “I liked hanging out with all the guys, but I tried to continue to get better at each level I was at so I could continue playing.”
After starting at Navarro as a two-way player on the mound and at shortstop, Pruitt soon began focusing on pitching. That’s when his college career really took off.
“In high school, I was a two-way guy. I was a pitcher and a shortstop, but I always enjoyed pitching more than I did shortstop. When I got to junior college, I struggled a bit at shortstop. I like pitching a whole lot more, so I’m going to stuck to that.”
Pruitt led the nation in ERA at Navarro (0.81) and helped lead them to the JUCO National Championship.
From there, Pruitt was a sought-after commodity.
“I talked to the University of Houston a little bit,” Pruitt said. “I had put up some pretty good numbers at Navarro and there were a few schools that came and looked at me. A few small ones, but the University of Houston is pretty close to my hometown so I decided to go there because it was easy for my family to make the drive to watch me play. They have a good program. They’re on the rise, that’s for sure.”
Now beginning his fourth professional season after being drafted in the 9th round in 2013 by Tampa Bay, Pruitt seems poised for a breakout season. Pruitt has won 19 games combined during the last two seasons, including 10 at Double-A in 2015.
Was his dad’s 20-hour drive from Texas to watch his Triple-A debut worth it?
Pruitt struck out a career-high 11 batters while earning a win over the Charlotte Knights.
The day after his start, Pruitt and his dad fired up the laptop.
“We may have watched a few innings of my outing.”
With those kinds of results, Pruitt may ask his dad to take 20-hour commutes a little more often. Austin may have to inform his dad that while it’s over 1,200 miles to Durham, it’s 170 miles closer to Tropicana Field.