RiverHawks’ “Franchise” player returns
« Back
September 9, 2009 - LOVES PARK, Ill. – The player that led the Rockford RiverHawks to the 2004 Frontier League pennant has returned for the team’s first year in the Northern League.

The RiverHawks announced Wednesday that they have signed Rich Austin, a veteran outfielder/first baseman who spent his first four professional seasons with the franchise. Austin, nicknamed “The Franchise”, won the FL Player of the Year Award and led the league in hitting in 2004. Since he reached the Frontier League’s age limit of 27, Austin has won two pennants, including this year in the Italian pro league, and played in five countries.

“Richie’s the first step in us building a ballclub that we think we bring us back to playoff contention,” RiverHawks co-owner and director of baseball operations Dave Ciarrachi said. “He’s one of the most popular players in RiverHawks history.”

The RiverHawks will employ the 32-year-old Austin as a player/coach.

“I’m really looking forward to having him back,” manager Bob Koopmann said. “He’s a great ballplayer, but he’s an ever greater person. I feel fortunate that we’re going to have him next year.”

Austin hit .299 with seven home runs and 23 RBI in 29 games this year for Fortitudo Bologna, which won the championship of Italy’s Serie A in an upset of T&A San Marino. The year before, he contended for the league’s Triple Crown. Austin’s 10 home runs and 50 RBI led all of Italy. His .366 average was third in the league. Following the Serie A playoffs, he went to Calgary of the independent Golden League. He was 4-for-16 with a RBI in four regular-season games with the Vipers.

Austin broke into pro ball in 2001 with the Springfield Capitals, who moved to Rockford following the season. In three years as a RiverHawk, Austin set two career and six single-season records. In 2004, Austin hit a league-leading .359 with 15 home runs and 77 RBI. The latter two are still single-season team records. He was an a Frontier League All-Star, league Player of the Year and a first-team member of Baseball America magazine’s All-Independent Leagues team. The Kansas City Royals signed him immediately after the RiverHawks won the ’04 title, but released him in spring training the following March.

Austin hit 32 home runs in a Rockford uniform, with his home games at pitcher-friendly Marinelli Field, but the left-hander hitter’s career record stood until Jason James hit his 33rd and 34th career home runs in August. Road Ranger Stadium’s right-field porch is just 312 feet from home plate.

“A ballpark like this is going to be real favorable for Richie,” Koopmann said.

Austin has already experienced nearly three full years in the Northern League. He played for Fargo-Moorhead in 2005-07 and was part of the RedHawks’ championship team in 2005. Austin hit at least .296 each year at Fargo. He also had a brief stint in the Class AAA Mexican League with Olmecas de Tabasco in 2007. Austin has also played winter ball in Mexico for each of the last three years. Austin is a career .301 hitter in North American minor leagues.

“He has had success at every level and with that he brings a presence to the clubhouse that is difficult to find,” Ciarrachi said.

The RiverHawks are members of the Northern League, an eight-team independent professional baseball league that will play its 18th season in 2010. Advertising and ticket information is available by calling (815) 885-2255. Most games are broadcast live on ESPN 1380 (WTJK-AM) and the internet. Fans can also visit the RiverHawks online at www.rockfordriverhawks.com.


 Search Archives
Search for:

Browse archives

©2006, Rockford RiverHawks. All rights reserved.