By Will Hightower
When the community of Homewood last saw Austin Hubbard, the athlete was headed to Auburn after an illustrious multi-sport career at Homewood High School. These days, the 23 year old is starting his second season in minor league baseball with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Hubbard is a relief pitcher, a specialist called upon in the last few innings of games. In the 19 games he pitched for the Hudson Valley Renegades in Upstate New York, he allowed a mere two runs, making his ERA an unheard of 0.39 on the season.
These tremendous results on the mound earned Hubbard, only one year out of Auburn, a spot on the Class-A Short Season All-Star Team.
One of the most prolific athletes in Homewood High School history, Hubbard led the football team to back-to-back 5A state championships. He passed for 5,347 yards and 52 touchdowns in his career at Homewood, and was 5A Player of the Year as a senior.
Even though he broke multiple football records and had some of the best seasons of anyone in Alabama state history, it was not his top priority.
“I always thought of myself as a baseball player who played football,” Hubbard said. “Football was just something I played for fun. When colleges were recruiting me to play football, it was easy for me to say no because baseball was what I had always loved most. Baseball was truly my first love.”
Playing under the tutelage of Doug Gann and Keith Brown at Homewood, Hubbard pitched a school-record 99 strikeouts and was named All-State as a senior.
“Austin was an outstanding athlete who really learned what it meant to compete at a high level as he matured throughout his career,” Brown said. “He knew what he was capable of and where he wanted to go, as far as getting to the next level, and he worked his tail off to get there.”
His senior season earned him a spot in the ALBCA Super 100, a showcase for college baseball prospects.
Auburn scouts were watching and offered the athlete a scholarship at the even. Two days later, Hubbard was touring the Auburn baseball facilities with the coaches and his parents. As they were leaving, the coaches told him they wanted a decision as soon as possible.
As he was heading past Momma Goldberg’s Deli on the way out of Auburn, however, Hubbard made his decision. “I told my parents we needed to turn around the car,” he said. “I went back into the coaches’ office and committed right there on the spot. It was really cool because I was just a kid playing baseball in high school, and suddenly I was committing to the highest level of baseball.”
He started slowly but ended his career at Auburn strong. He broke the Tigers’ record for saves in a season with 12, attracting the attention of pro scouts. Hubbard was drafted in the 14th round of the senior draft.
Now, after having finished his first season of pro ball with the Renegades, Hubbard reflects on the season and how he got there.
“It’s a grind,” he said. “You play 79 games in 82 days, and the All-Star events are two of the off days. So I only had one off day in the entire season.”
Apparently, the long bus rides aren’t as miserable as the movies portray. “We are on buses four times a week,” he said. “But it really isn’t bad when you have a bunch of guys to talk to about baseball, girls… whatever dude talk is. All of us are interested in similar stuff. The Latin kids try to teach us Spanish, and we try to teach them English. It’s not that bad.”
When asked if he ever wonders how he made it into professional baseball, Hubbard answers confidently and without hesitation: “I’m just trying to be the person Coach Gann and Coach Brown always wanted me to be. You give back what is given to you, and they gave me so much.”
Homewood to the big leagues is a road less traveled. But Austin Hubbard is forging his own path right towards his hopes and dreams of making it in Major League Baseball.