SAVANNAH — Austin Thompson is embracing every moment he has as a baseball player. The Georgia Southern and former South Effingham player is staying busy with summer ball as a member of the Savannah Bananas.
Thompson is passionate about the game but his relaxed demeanor helps him stay loose. He has big plans going into his junior campaign with the Eagles and that starts with working on his batting average.
“The average is down a little bit,” he said. “I would like to be near the .300 mark. I was happy with the power numbers (six homers). I thought that was a big jump from my freshman year, having just one home run.
“I think a few hits here and there and it’s right back there.”
Thompson is coming off a 35-24 run with the Eagles, who came up one game shy of clinching the Sun Belt Conference title for a third consecutive year. Despite competing against teams like Troy and Coastal Carolina, Thompson believes Georgia Southern is on the brink of something special.
“It sucked,” said Thompson regarding the recent tournament championship loss. “Losing isn’t fun but you learn a lot from losing. At the end of the day ,that’s baseball. That’s life. I do believe our time is coming.
“Our coaches, our players — I think we are hungrier than we’ve ever been.”
Thompson, an infielder, recalls the game against Troy being one of his most memorable moments of the tournament. A pitcher’s duel broke out where the Eagles eventually defeated the Trojans 1-0.
“The pitching was awesome,” he said. “It was unreal. It was something you’ll never forget. Growing up you dream about playing in the championship and going to Omaha — that’s the goal every year.
“We weren’t even supposed to be there based off the preseason projections.”
Thompson recalls his Final Four run at South Effingham and how much the loss to Loganville motivated him to leave nothing on the field.
“It was awesome,” he said. “That team had a special bond. We had each other’s back. We all thought we were going to win. That was tough to lose. In high school, if you’re not going to college, it’s tough if you’re a senior.
“It was kind of a wake-up call.”
Thompson’s play with the Coastal Plain League’s Savannah Bananas is much more relaxed. The organization’s role is to help college players develop during the offseason but the team is quite different. Aside from playing in one of the most historic venues around, the Bananas compete in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,000 every night.
Despite the pandemonium among the fans, Thompson is taking his time as a Banana serious. The grind is the same, if not harder than, his normal schedule as an Eagle; quick turnaround, little sleep and long bus rides. Finding the resolve to put his best foot forward is the same determination he will need to through another grueling Sun Belt schedule in 2020.
“In summer ball, you’re playing six or seven days a week,” Thompson said. “At Georgia Southern, you have to have the same mentality. You have to show up every day and grind it out. We got back at 5 a.m. (one recent) morning and then had to play a doubleheader. That was kind of tough.
“You just have to find a way to get it done.”
For Thompson, perfecting his swing is his No. 1 priority. Playing during the summer keeps the rust off and challenges him on a nightly basis and in practice. It’s all about repetition.
“If I go out there and go 0-for-3 with three hard hit line drives, it was a good day for me,” Thompson said. “As long as I am putting a good swing on the ball, I really don’t care about stats. Coach Tyler Gillum is one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for. He’s so good at communicating and getting the point across to you. He’s awesome. We come out about three to four hours before the game and it’s good to get a new perspective on it, get someone else to look at you and have them tell you what they think.
“At the end of the day it’s baseball. You just have to get back to the basics; hit a hard-line drive somewhere. Everything you do out here is going to help you and correlate to the next season.”