TinCaps catcher Austin Hedges has played more games this year than any season in his life. It's a mental and physical strain. And he loves it.
Hedges, 19, is in Geneva, Ill., today, preparing to start for the Eastern Division in the Midwest League All-Star game at Kane County's Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
“(Playing catcher) has been my dream since I was 3 years old,” Hedges said. “Obviously, there's wear and tear and a physical toll, but it's exactly what I want to be doing out there every day.”
Hedges asserts that the physical toll doesn't match the mental toll.
“The mental is the majority, over 50 percent, because you're trying to figure out each hitter and your pitchers strengths and weaknesses. I think the majority of the job is mental.”
The rewards, for someone as adept at the position as Hedges, is the chance to forge a career in baseball. Hedges has been ranked as one of the best prospects in the San Diego Padres' chain, and he's been living up to that hype. Through 45 games with the TinCaps, Hedges is hitting .274 with five home runs, 14 doubles and 27 RBIs. He has also proved strong at calling pitches and handling the staff of the Class A franchise.
“I'm learning a lot,” he said. “I'm learning about calling pitches and each pitcher has his own personality and you have to know how to talk to them on and off the field.”
Hedges was picked in the second round of the 2011 draft after a standout high school career at Junipero Serra High in San Diego. So he's a homegrown prospect for the Padres.
Making the all-star game – and starting – offer more tangible evidence of his progress. Hedges will be joined at the All-Star game by three other TinCaps: shortstop Jace Peterson and pitchers Frank Garces and Adys Portillo. The game will be aired on ESPN 1380-AM and ESPNFortWayne.com.
“I try to stay away from goals and numbers and just try to get better every day,” Hedges said. “I'm always trying to make adjustments and do something to get better every day. When you're doing that, then obviously you are achieving some of those goals you have.”
Hedges expects the game to be much like showcases he has been involved with as a player. He'll talk with and warm up pitchers prior to their appearance to try to get a feel for what they throw. In an all-star setting, the pitchers won't be on the mound long.
Hedges is one of the younger players on the TinCaps and in the Midwest League. But he says he tries not to be too anxious about how fast he can move up the farm system ladder.
“It's a long process and I want to do everything the right way,” he said. “I'm happy to be where I am right now. …It was hard for a little bit to be so far away (from his California home), but there's nowhere I'd rather be right now. This is a good town, a good baseball town.”
Hedges said he hopes the break can give the TinCaps a fresh start. They finished the season's first half with five straight losses and did not earn a playoff berth.
With talent like Hedges and the other all stars, there should be no reason why the TinCaps can't jump to a stronger start in the second half.
Hedges said he is grateful and appreciative of his all-star opportunity.
“It's a huge honor to play with all these great baseball players who have made it as well,” he said. “It should be a great atmosphere. Everything I've heard about what they're doing sounds like a lot of fun.”