Catching up with "The Franchise"
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April 16, 2008 - Former Rockford RiverHawk Rich Austin visited the area recently as he prepared to head to Italy for his eighth season of professional baseball.

Austin, known as "The Franchise" during his days patrolling right field at Marinelli Field, led the RiverHawks to the 2004 Frontier League pennant. Austin, voted league Player of the Year that season, led the league in hitting and was signed by the Kansas City Royals that fall. He still holds the team's single-season and career home-run records.

Since leaving Rockford, Austin has played for Fargo-Moorhead in the independent Northern League, had a brief stint in the Class AA Mexican League and spent each of the last two offseasons playing winter ball in Mexico. He's now with Fortitudo Bologna, a seven-time champion of Serie A1, the top Italian professional league.

Visit the audio archive to hear an interview with Austin.

Bologna's season starts Friday with the opener of a two-game series against visiting T&A San Marino. San Marino is based out of the nation of the same name. San Marino, with a population of 29,000 and surrounded on all borders by Italy, is the smallest nation in the world - both demographically and geographically - with professional baseball.


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