May 18, 2017
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
If it’s true that if you love what you do you never work a day in your life then Austin Wilhite has never worked a day in his life on the baseball diamond.
“He always has a smile on his face,” said head coach Danny Hall. “I think that translates in everything you do if you see somebody that is smiling and kind of having fun going about their business. That’s definitely Austin.
“I think he looks at it as he’s going to have fun playing,” Hall added. “He’s appreciative of the opportunity that he’s been given and he’s taken full advantage of it and he’s definitely solidified the middle of our infield.”
That doesn’t mean Wilhite hasn’t worked since arriving on campus. He has, quite hard in fact.
“I came in, I knew I had to put in some work,” said the 5-9, 164-pound freshman. “I’ve been out there just having fun, playing like I know how to play. It was a pretty big adjustment trying to get used to school at Georgia Tech and getting adjusted to baseball, all the workouts we had to do so it took me a little while to get used to it. But once I started adjusting I just started having fun with it and started enjoying every day playing like I know how to play.”
His joy has resulted in a lot of joy for Georgia Tech baseball.
Wilhite came into the final regular season series against No. 8 Virginia batting .337, tops on the team and 16th in the ACC. He also leads the Yellow Jackets in on-base percentage (.417) and ranks third on the team in hits (59) and doubles (14). He has 18 multi-hit games (third on the Jackets), with seven- and six-game hitting streaks. He’s also found ways to get on base, reaching in 39 of Tech’s 50 games, via hit or walk, with a season-high 11-game on-base streak. Only one time all season has Wilhite not gotten on with a hit or walk in back-to-back games. It’s allowed him to score 32 times, fourth on the team.
Hall watched Wilhite extensively last summer as Austin played with the East Cobb Yankees. He attributes some of Wilhite’s success at the plate to his ability to use the entire field very much like a very different Yankee — legendary New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.
“I would never want to compare him to Derek Jeter but he swings a lot like that, where Derek could just shoot balls into right field almost on command. Austin is very good at doing that,” Hall said. “He stays in his at-bats, he competes in his at-bats. If he gets a pitch to hit he’s been hitting it. There have been times where it looks like maybe he’s somewhat fatigued with the amount of games we play, where his swing looks like it’s getting a little long. But then all of a sudden he has two hits in the game and he’s just going on.”
Wilhite has been as solid defensively (a .938 fielding percentage), despite not really playing his primary position. Wilhite played more at second base last summer, while the Jackets’ current Friday Night starter Xzavion Curry manned shortstop.
But once Tech’s fall practice began things fell into place for a move to short.
“It kind of came to the point, particularly when Tristin English went out that we knew we had to pitch Zay (Xzavion) primarily so it kind of took Zay out of the shortstop mix,” Hall said. “Then Carter (Hall) started the year with some issues, Parker McCoy hurt his back and so it kind of came down to ‘are we going to put Wade Bailey there or are we going to put Austin?’ Austin by far was the best guy there.”
Wilhite is now prepared to continue a long line of great Georgia Tech shortstops, a list that includes former Major Leaguers Nomar Garciaparra and Tyler Greene and current pros Derek Dietrich (Miami Marlins), Mott Hyde (Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks) and Connor Justus (Advanced-A Inland Empire 66ers). Austin sighted a conversation with Justus as a big reason for coming to The Flats.
“He said that he loved it here,” he recalled. “I really wanted to come here, because he talked so highly about it.”
Further aiding Austin’s successful transition to The Flats was going through freshman year with twin brother, Nick Wilhite.
There were so many other familiar faces around the clubhouse, fellow East Cobb Yankees Curry, catcher Kyle McCann, pitchers Garrett Gooden and Andy Archer, and Buford High School alumni and former teammates catcher Joey Bart and pitcher Keyton Gibson, that he felt at home right away.
“Just having some guys on the team that know how I play helps a lot,” Austin said. “When they see me start getting out of my game they’ll say, ‘Hey, that’s not YOU. You don’t need to be trying to do that. Just settle back down. Get in here, focus and do what you need to do.’”
“I think it’s huge. I don’t know the whole twin dynamic but you rarely see one without the other,” said Hall. “When we recruited them that was part of the deal that they were going to go somewhere together. There’s a tight, tight bond there and then the fact that they all got to play with several guys last summer I think just extended that kind of family bond to some other guys. I think it helps him get settled her quicker because they’re familiar with a lot of their teammates.”
Austin and Nick were born 18 minutes apart — Austin is older, something he quipped he tries to hold over Nick as much as he can — and the two have been almost inseparable since arriving on campus. They’re roommates and business administration majors, even sharing two classes this semester. About the only way to tell them apart is with Nick’s facial hair (Austin shaved off his goatee a while back).
“Being together for pretty much our whole lives and playing together is really a big help because you always have that one person that’s there, that’s always going to support you no matter what,’” said Nick. “Just experiencing the college life together has probably been my favorite part. Growing and maturing together, living without parents for the first time, living on our own, being around everybody, experiencing football games, going to softball games.”
Having each other has been big morale-wise for the twins, especially this season, as Nick, primarily a pitcher/outfielder, has worked his way back healthy and to the mound.
“We’ve played on every team together for our entire lives and we haven’t spent much time away from each other at all,” Austin said. “Coming here and being able to help each other out with school, baseball or anything that we’ve been struggling with has been a huge help for both of us throughout this semester.”
“Say Austin were to have a bad practice, afterward we’d hang out and maybe play video games, something to make him laugh, just do something to help him get away from it for a few hours,” Nick said. “Then come back maybe later when you’re more relaxed and think about it and be like, ‘Oh, it wasn’t THAT bad of a practice.’”
They have little sibling disagreements, like who is best at their favorite video game Call of Duty or whether Austin’s lone home run of the season, over the batter’s eye in dead center against Auburn on March 21st, was wind-aided or not (Austin says no, Nick says yes) but they agree that they’re proud of each other for how they’ve gotten through this first college baseball season and school year.
Hall would like to see Austin’s future seasons mirror his 2017 season by him continuing to do what has worked thus far.
“Just keep doing what he’s doing, keep playing solid at shortstop,” he said. “The bat may tail off a little bit just because of the length of the season, getting tired, and things like that but I think that’s the area that he’ll make the biggest gains going into next year. He’s going to get stronger as he gets older and that’s only going to help him.
“So just continue doing what he’s doing, don’t assume anything and just keep showing up every day with that smile on his face and playing hard.”