For most preschoolers, everyday life usually revolves around cartoons, toys and figuring out how to sneak an extra cookie without mom finding out. The same was true for Austin Allen, with one small difference: He already had an eye on his future.
“My mom says when I was 4 years old,” the Aviators’ catcher recalls, “I told her I was going to be a professional baseball player.”
Some 17 years later, Allen made that prediction a reality when the San Diego Padres selected him out of Florida Tech University in the fourth round (117th overall pick) of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Allen steadily progressed through the Padres’ minor-league system in his first five seasons of pro ball, and in 2019 he earned his first promotion to the big leagues. After appearing 34 games with the Padres, Allen was dealt in the 2019 offseason to the Oakland A’s, for whom he played 14 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and two games early this year.
Since arriving in Las Vegas on May 12, Allen has been a fixture in the middle of the Aviators’ lineup. After going 1-for-4 in the Aviators’ 3-2 loss to El Paso on Sunday at Las Vegas Ballpark, he’s batting .291 with 11 homers, 31 RBI and 30 runs. Allen also has hit safely in 20 of his last 22 contests, including a team-best 15-game hitting streak from June 17-July 9.
We recently caught up with the 27-year-old St. Louis native to discuss the art of catching, what it’s like to be behind the plate in the searing Vegas heat, what goes into choosing a walk-up song and more.
Most kids don’t volunteer to play catcher but rather “end up” there. Do you recall how you first found your way behind the plate?
It was right around my freshman year of high school. My travel-ball coach told me, “Hey, if you want to maybe have a chance to play in college, your best bet is probably playing catcher.” Most likely, it was because I was pretty small when I was young — I didn’t really grow until I got to college — and while I could hit a little bit, I wasn’t the fastest guy. So the thinking was try to get to college by being a good hitting catcher. So I took my coach’s advice, ran with it and haven’t looked back since.
What are the three most important attributes every catcher must possess to be successful?
Physically, you need to be flexible. You also need to have a temperament that can mesh with the various personalities of your pitching staff — knowing what guys you can push and knowing what guys want to do their own thing and can be left alone. Finally, you need the mentality that you’ll do anything you can to help the team win. No matter how good or bad you’re playing — on offense or defense — every single pitch you have to be locked in.
How does one survive donning the gear for a summertime day game in Las Vegas? How much weight will you lose on those particular days?
You drink of Pedialyte and a lot of water. I honestly don’t know about the weight loss, because I’ve never weighed myself after a game. I just know that after games, I’m soaking wet from sweat. It’s pretty gross.
You’ve played catcher in both San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, and now Las Vegas. How does a Texas summer compare with a Vegas summer?
They’re different. San Antonio and El Paso were similar in that it felt like the sun was right on top of you; it was just so hot and humid. Here, it’s like a blow dryer is in your face nonstop. They say it’s a dry heat here, but I’m out there sweating profusely, so …
You played about a half-season with Fernando Tatis Jr. in Double-A San Antonio in 2018. Could you tell even at that point that he’d be this good?
I had a sense he was going to be really, really good. I didn’t think he was going to be this good. He was about 18 or 19 years old and was struggling a bit through the first few weeks of that season, and I just remember his attitude every single day was like, “I’m going to work, and it’s going to turn around soon.” He had that kind of maturity as a teenager. And when it turned around, it turned around quick — and it was very impressive. He’s special, for sure. He was born to play baseball.
What’s your favorite non-baseball-related hobby?
Fly fishing, which I started doing back in 2013. I like it because it’s a combination of a game and a skill. I usually go with a buddy or two and we hang out, relax, reminisce and try to catch some redfish.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I have two: original glazed Krispy Kreme donuts and YouTube.
Do you combine them?
Oohhh, yeah — 100 percent!
Who’s the one Aviators pitcher you wouldn’t want to face in a crucial situation?
[Relief pitcher] A.J. Puk, because it’s a lefty-on-lefty matchup and he throws 98 mph. Also, [reliever] Domingo Acevedo is really funky — I’ve had a few live at-bats against him in batting practice, and I did not like it.
What’s it been like playing in Las Vegas Ballpark this season?
It’s been amazing — the best ballpark, by far, in minor-league baseball. El Paso is up there as one of my favorites, but Las Vegas Ballpark is unbelievable. The clubhouse, the facilities, the playing surface — everything is just amazing, including the fans. We love the support we get every night. It’s fun playing in front of that many people.
Finish this sentence: I’ll know I’ve had a successful career if …
I actually think I already have. Baseball got me to college and paid for my education; I got drafted; and I’ve played in the big leagues. I’ve made it farther than a lot of people thought I would. So I’m pretty happy with how my career has gone.
I definitely want to get back [to the big leagues], but until then, I’m going to be present where my feet are, do as well as I can down here and try to help the Aviators win.
AVIATORS' RALLY FALLS SHORT: For the fourth time in as many days, the Aviators on Sunday got an outstanding starting pitching performance against the El Paso Chihuahuas. But for the first time, Las Vegas’ usually productive offense failed to cash it in.
Paul Blackburn allowed just one hit and two walks over five shutout innings, and the Aviators carried a 1-0 first-inning lead until the eighth inning, when El Paso rallied for three runs and held on for a 3-2 victory that snapped Las Vegas three-game overall winning streak and six-game home winning streak.
On the heels of consecutive sensational starts by Daulton Jefferies, Homer Bailey and Miguel Romero, Blackburn treated a crowd of 5,905 to another pitching gem. The veteran right-hander allowed a single to the second batter he faced — Chihuahuas right fielder Turcapita Marcano — then retired the next eight batters in a row before Marcano walked with one out in the fourth.
Blackburn’s only other blemish was a two-out walk to El Paso shortstop Matt Batten in the fifth inning. Over his five innings, Blackburn through 46 of 77 pitches for strikes, faced just two batters over the minimum and struck out six while lowering his season ERA to 4.41 (best among Las Vegas starters).
Catcher Francisco Peña staked Blackburn to a quick 1-0 lead with a two-out sacrifice fly that scored right fielder Greg Deichmann, who walked leading off the bottom of the first and went to third when second baseman Nate Mondou followed with a double.
That 1-0 advantage held up until the top of the eighth, when Chihuahuas first baseman Nick Tanielu took Las Vegas reliever Grant Holmes deep over the right-center field fence for a two-run homer. El Paso (26-36) stretched its lead to 3-1 when center fielder Robbie Podorsky immediately followed Tanielu’s blast with a triple and scored on designated hitter Austin Nola’s single.
The Aviators nearly produced some ninth-inning magic as third baseman Vimael Machín led off with a single and scored three batters later on Mondou’s sacrifice fly. But with Skye Bolt standing on second base after a walk and Mondou’s flyout, El Paso closer Mason Thompson was summoned from the bullpen. Thompson need just three pitches to end the night, retiring Las Vegas first baseman Carlos Pérez on a groundout to third base.
With the defeat, the Aviators (32-32) fell back to .500, but they still have won eight of their last 12 overall.
GAME NOTES: Prior to his game-ending groundout, Pérez had gone 2-for-4, joining Machín (2-for-3, double, run) as the only Aviators to register multiple hits. … With his first-inning double, Mondou has now hit safely in 12 of 14 games dating to July 3, recording multiple hits in nine of those contests. For the month, Mondou is batting .365 (23-for-63) with eight doubles, nine runs and 13 RBI. … Peña (0-for-3, sacrifice fly) had his season-high six-game hitting streak snapped. … Bolt, who was optioned back to Las Vegas from the parent Oakland A’s on Saturday, entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. The veteran outfielder had been with the A’s since June 2, going just 5-for-47 (.106 average) in limited action. … The Aviators finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base. … Through the first four games of this series against El Paso, Las Vegas starting pitchers have yielded a total of 14 hits and five walks in 21 innings. … Chihuahuas starting pitcher Jesse Scholtens matched Blackburn with five strong innings, giving up the first-inning run while scattering five hits, two walks and striking out four. … While Holmes struggled out of the bullpen for the Aviators, giving up three runs on three hits in one-third of an inning, fellow relievers Ben Bracewell, Reymin Guduan and Argenis Angulo were outstanding, yielding a combined two hits and two walks in 3 2/3 shutout innings. … The Aviators’ streak of hitting at least one home run in eight straight games ended. Still, they have gone deep in 12 of their last 14 contests and 33 of the last 39 dating back to June 4.
ON DECK: The Aviators are scheduled to hand the baseball to southpaw Jesús Luzardo (0-2, 8.50 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. Monday in the fifth game of the six-game series against El Paso, which is undecided on a starting pitcher. Click here to purchase tickets.
Catch every Aviators game throughout the season on Raider Nation Radio 920-AM, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @AviatorsLV.