IOWA CITY — Austin Martin stationed himself in the parking lot beyond the outfield wall of Duane Banks Field.
He conjured up images of taking the field for the Iowa Hawkeyes. The visualization might have been the one thing that kept him warm, working security from 4 p.m. until 6 a.m. on the eve of Hawkeye football games as a member of the Southeastern Community College baseball team.
“I’d kind of look over here as I was sitting through those freezing nights for a little bit of extra motivation,” Martin said. “After I committed here my sophomore year, it was one more trip being closer to playing here.”
The junior college transfer has become an instant contributor. Martin leads the Hawkeyes in hits, raising his batting average to .370 after his team-high 12th multiple-hit game in an 11-6 loss to Illinois State Wednesday night at home.
“He’s had a really big impact,” Iowa Coach Rick Heller said. “He had four hits again.
“With Tanner Padgett out and Izaya Fullard’s been out with illness, we have a lot of guys not in the lineup that make it difficult for us at times and Austin has really picked up the slack.”
Martin wanted to be a Hawkeye as a two-time all-stater for back-to-back state title teams at Southeast Polk. He didn’t receive many offers, so he elected to go the juco route.
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“I had some developing to do,” Martin said. “I knew that as a player I had an opportunity at Southeastern. I went ahead and took it and Iowa was my goal once I committed to Southeastern.”
He learned discipline in Burlington and gained some perspective about the chance to play baseball at the collegiate level.
“We were out here working Iowa football games on Friday nights,” Martin said as a way to support the program. “Everything you got from Burlington was (earned) and I think that has helped me appreciate what I’ve gotten through baseball. It’s just not given.”
Martin had the unenviable task of replacing catcher Tyler Cropley, who was a second-team All-American for Iowa last season before being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Cropley was a durable and reliable leader behind the plate and in the batters’ box. Heller said Martin was recruited because he was the experienced backstop they needed. Interestingly, Cropley was a juco transfer that played a key role in his two years with the Hawkeyes.
“It’s just the position I play and I stepped into those shoes,” Martin said. “I’m just trying to gain the respect and trust of my teammates and coaches. Not trying to do too much in the process.”
Iowa noticed Martin his freshman season. He hit .304 with 10 doubles and three home runs. His sophomore campaign was better, hitting .309 with 32 RBIs, 46 runs and three home runs. Southeastern Coach Justin Schulte praised his intangibles and that is what sold Heller and his staff.
“Coach Schulte said a lot of good things about his character and makeup and his toughness and he was dead-on on all those things,” Heller said. “As good a player as Austin is, he’s even a way better person.
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“He’s an awesome leader and a tough kid, who works really, really hard. He doesn’t take things for granted and he’s a great teammate.”
His production has been great as well for Iowa (16-11). He went 4-for-5 against Illinois State (15-13), hitting an RBI double in the first and a run-scoring single in the seventh. Martin has 34 hits and is second on the team with 16 RBIs.
“We knew Austin had a strong arm and would be able to control the running game, like Tyler did,” Heller said. “The big jump was made by Austin with his hitting. He’s really worked hard on his hitting and has become a solid all-around hitter.”
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