Every time Austin Kirk digs his cleats into the soft, red dirt on a mound, rolls a baseball in his glove and winds his left arm up for a pitch, he thinks about being a major league baseball pitcher.
It’s a dream he’s had since he first set foot on a diamond field and the only dream he has his eyes on.
It’s been nearly three years since Kirk signed with the Chicago Cubs right out of high school and he’s just a pitch closer to making his dream come true.
“Ever since I was a kid people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and I’d always say a major league baseball player,” Kirk said. “You eventually get to that age some kids change and realize not everybody is going to do that, but not me.”
When Kirk was in high school he would still get asked the same question and he would always have the same answer. He said many would laugh at the thought of him being an MLB player but three years in the minors he’s one step closer to his dream.
“I’m just here trying to live out a dream that I’ve had for awhile,” he said.
“Here” is Mesa, Ariz., where the Chicago Cubs Spring training is taking place.
Kirk has spent the last couple of weeks under the sun showing scouts, coaches and all that’s he ready for the big show. For the last three years that’s what it’s been all about – proving himself.
Kirk was a star pitcher at Owasso High School and a three-time state champion. He was a high school athlete who stood out to most, especially those close to him.
Mark Kirk, Austin’s father, said he always knew the talent his son had but didn’t realize his gift until later on.
“He was still not one of the biggest kids on the team, he really had to work harder at what he did in order to be successful but it gave him that work ethic,” Mark Kirk said. “Our concerns as a family his junior year was try to get him in a situation to get him a college scholarship.”
And they did, but not without a little bit of growth.
Things never really picked up for Kirk until his junior and senior years. He participated in showcases and was picked up by the Chicago White Sox showcase team.
Professional scouts started showing up at his games, he attended major league workout camps and got looks from Division I schools like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas and more.
“It was actually a very, very hard decision, Austin was kind of a late bloomer, he was always one of the younger guys on his team,” Mark Kirk said. “Apparently people were paying a lot more attention then we thought they were.”
“He was pretty much unbeatable his senior year of high school. He was throwing like 94 mph, striking people out.”
Austin chose the University of Oklahoma. It was close to home and his family.
But after he signed and after much thought he chose something bigger.
Austin decided to enter the MLB draft and was drafted the Chicago Cubs’ 109th overall pick in the third round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Mark Kirk said the family had heard negative stories about young players entering the draft and how difficult it would be to move up.
But he said his son was set on it and he wasn’t going to take his dream away.
“We weren’t real excited about him going into the minor leagues but it was his dream, that’s what it boiled down to,” Mark Kirk said. “Even after all the stories, that was Austin and he never changed his mind, it was his dream.”
Austin started his Minor League Baseball career off in the Rookie league where he posted an Earned Run Average of 3.12 with 10 strikeouts. He was promoted up to the Short-Season Low Class-A Boise, where he finished the 2009 season with an ERA of 3.31.
He started the 2010 season in Boise but was quickly promoted again and moved up to Class-A Peoria, where he finished the 2010 season.
For the last three years Kirk has learned a lot about playing big-time baseball and being young hasn’t made it easy.
“It was really a pretty big transition going from high school ball, you’re from a very safe environment then you get thrown into a big ocean,” Austin Kirk said. “I definitely see some benefits you get from going to college but one benefit (right now) would be my age, being a little bit younger kind of sets me apart from some people.
“I know that there’s several steps to go before you finally get to the major leagues, we’re all here, we’re all talking about it all the time,” Kirk said.
Austin has also learned how fast and cutthroat the baseball business can be. He’s made friends and lost friends, who came in and out of the system.
But when the hard times come he said he has his roots to turn to.
“My parents helped me grow up real well, one thing they’ve always said is, ‘it doesn’t matter how good you are, you don’t have to tell anybody, just let people decide for themselves,’” Austin said. “I’m always very, very proud of my heritage any time anybody asks, I always say I’m Native American, I’m from the Osage tribe. I always remember going to the Osage dances, those are some fond memories there in Pawhuska.”
Austin’s grandfather is Charley Kirk and his late grandmother was Margie Kirk. Mark Kirk said he grew up in the Grayhorse area and educates his son about his culture and experience.
Austin said he knows his situation is rare but that hasn’t stopped him from going for his dream. He said being a minority shouldn’t stop others from doing the same.
“I’ve always tried to be a better person than I am a baseball player,” he said. “You just have to stick with your dreams, it doesn’t matter what people tell you.”