Love of the game

WAHS senior Cummings to continue baseball career at Millersville

Don and Austyn Cummings have shared a lifelong passion for baseball. Throughout Austyn’s playing career, Don has held the dual role of father and coach, including as an assistant on the Dragons baseball staff. With his senior season on the horizon, both father and son are looking forward to achieving team success before Austyn heads to Millersville University to continue his baseball career.

Make your way to Legion Field at any given point during the year, and you’re likely to hear the sound of bat on ball or the pop of a glove with some great baseball talk mixed in.

It’s the epitome of what ‘America’s Favorite Pastime’ is all about. Families getting together to have a catch or throw a little batting practice, all while sharing in the joy that comes from playing a game and forming bonds that last generations.

For Warren baseball senior Austyn Cummings, that joy came the moment he was able to get his hands on a bat.

“Ever since I could swing a bat, my dad’s been in the back yard with us playing whiffleball,” he said. “The neighborhood kids would come down. We had lights set up, it would be midnight and we’re all out there playing baseball.

“That was my life as a kid,” Cummings added.

WAHS senior Austyn Cummings, seated next to his mother, Chris, and father Donnie, signs his National Letter of Intent in November to play baseball at Millersville University. Back row is WAHS head baseball coach Rick Eaton (right) and assistant Jason Rafalski.

It’s Austyn and his dad, Don, who folks are likely to see at the ballfield. Of course, that’s true when the Dragons are on the field as well as Don is an assistant coach on the staff.

“It’s neat,” Austyn said of having his dad as a coach. “Some of my favorite pictures that I have from the (team) moms (are of us). There’s one of me and my dad, and I just love that. It’s cool.”

The love of baseball is something that’s been passed down the line in the Cummings family. Austyn’s grandfather, Lou, was himself a good player, having homered of Satchel Paige, and that sparked Don’s love of the game.

“The Pirates wanted him to come try out,” Don said. “But he already had one child and my mom was pregnant and he was working a job at Sylvania and couldn’t take the chance. I was my dad’s mini-me. He threw right and batted left and so do I. When I was older, my mom and dad never missed a game and I don’t miss anything for my kids either.”

“His whole life he’s always been big into baseball,” Austyn said. “My grandpa Lou was huge into baseball… and I think that kind of sparked (Don’s) interest.”

That passion has helped Austyn excel as a player. He’s a three-time region all-star, second team as a freshman and first-team during his sophomore and junior campaigns and was region Co-Player of the Year in 2017. For his career, he’s got a .370/.493/.670 slash line with 14 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 50 runs scored, 39 RBI and an impressive 35:42 K:BB ratio.

Those awards and stats are great, but Austyn will be the first to say they become meaningless if it doesn’t lead to team success.

“I’m not a bunter,” he said. “But I’d go up there a bunt a ball if you need me to. If it’s for the team and it’s going to win a game, you need to do it.”

“The awards are nice, but the ultimate goal is team,” Don added. “When I played for Betts I could go 4-4 but if we lost, I was mad, but if I went 0-4 and we won, I was happy. It’s a team sport and that’s what I’ve always told my boys.”

Austyn is already trying to get the Dragons’ underclassmen to buy into that approach as well, with team success his ultimate goal heading into his final high school season.

“One thing that I think is going to be a big step this year is it’s not going to be ‘Well, I need to do this for myself’,” Austyn said. “Everyone is going to say, ‘Alright, what do we need in this situation to win?’ And I think that’s going to help a lot.”

“It’s huge to have the camaraderie this group has,” Don said. “They’ve been hitting all winter and those guys all hang out with each other, go to breakfast together, etc. And he wants to have the younger kids be part of that.”

Seeing the success his peers have had through the fall and winter has only made him more driven.

“It makes you want it more,” he said. “We’re going to be ready. We’ve got some seniors who are ready to get stuff done. It’s all right there, but it depends on how much our kids want it.”

Though 2019 will be the final time he dons a Warren uniform, Austyn’s baseball career will continue. He signed his National Letter of Intent, along with eight of his classmates, in December to play collegiately for Millersville.

“You’re proud,” Don said of watching Austyn sign his NLI. “I don’t know how to describe it. He gets to do something he loves for four more years and get an education out of it.”

Coach Jon Shehan was the first college coach to reach out to Austyn about playing at the next level.

“I was at a Pirates game with my family and the Baldensperger family and I got a text I thought was a telemarketer,” he said. “I looked down and it said, ‘This is Coach Shehan from Millersville..’ I was like, ‘Holy crap! This is a good school and he’s looking at me!’ I showed my dad right away, and being at a Pirates game made it even cooler.”

“The look on his face when he got the message was great,” Don laughed. “I told him not to commit to anybody yet, let’s do the summer visits and see what you like.”

One visit to the school just southwest of Lancaster and Austyn knew that’s where he wanted to continue his career.

“I just fell in love with the area,” he said. “It’s just like here. It’s a smaller college, not like a city with stuff happening everywhere.”

Shehan made a lasting impression as well, on both father and son.

“I loved everything about coach,” Don said. “The way he treated the freshmen, the way they build a team. His whole philosophy was awesome and it struck home with Austyn too.”

“Shehan’s probably the coolest coach I’ve ever met,” Austyn added. “He’s the type of guy where you could talk about anything with him and he’s 100 percent OK with it. He’s all about the team and winning.”

Shehan took over a 9-37 team and has amassed a 387-200-1 record in 11 seasons with numerous all-conference/region selections and seven Major League Baseball draft picks.

“Ultimately, I want to go there to play baseball and see what I can do furthering that baseball career,” Austyn said. “All the coaches down there are awesome. They’re all about making the kids better, on and off the field.”

Throughout this process, dad’s been trying to make sure Austyn keeps a level head and doesn’t get too far ahead of himself.

“The last few years, we’ve spent every summer on the road,” Don said. “We’ll have talks in the hotel rooms about life. Life after baseball, dreams of getting drafted. I told him to just take it one step at a time.”

No matter what the future holds, the bond baseball has created between father and son will only grow stronger.

“It’s just one thing that me and my dad have a huge bond over,” Austyn said. “We both can talk about baseball all day long. We can go eat dinner at The Bullpen and talk about the same thing over and over. It just doesn’t get old.”