Staying On The Field

Cousino shows strong desire to play

After surgery to repair a posterior labrum tear, it didn't take long for Austin Cousino to start throwing again.

No, his left arm didn't make a miraculous recovery, enabling him to breeze through the extensive rehab. Ever the competitor, he was merely trying to get back on the field by learning how to throw righthanded, a feat he mastered.

"He decided he was going to do that after he was injured," said Tim Saunders, Cousino's coach at Dublin (Ohio) Coffman High. "It wasn't anything he practiced growing up. He decided he was going to play for us last year opposite-handed."

Despite the young outfielder's best efforts to get back on the diamond as fast as he could, Saunders wasn't willing to take the chance that Cousino re-injure his shoulder, which could have bumped his rehab back several months.

He first discovered his injury near the end of last season, when his throws from the outfield didn't have their customary zip. After being examined by a doctor, the labrum tear was found, leaving Cousino with two choices for treatment. He could get surgery right away, which would force him to sit out his junior year, or he could delay surgery and be faced with the likelihood that he would need it sometime in college.

"I sat down with my dad and decided that if colleges really want me, they'll be true to me throughout the process," Cousino said. "It scared me, thinking 'Is this going to scare away some schools?'"

Cousino opted for surgery sooner rather than later and so far, no schools have balked because of his health.

The decision was made more difficult given Cousino's desire for competition.

"This kid gets it," Saunders said. "He's a competitor, he understands competition and he wants to be a part of the best competition he can be in every day. Most kids aren't like that."

Perhaps Cousino acquired his competitive streak on the hockey rink. When he was young, hockey was his best and favorite sport. "That was probably my first love," Cousino said. "I wanted to be a NHL star."

As he grew up, he realized that his future was on the baseball field, rather than the ice.  

"Hockey coaches wanted me to quit football and baseball," Cousino said. "But I actually ended up quitting hockey for football and baseball. And then I ended up quitting football for baseball."

So far, it looks like Cousino made the right decision. The outfielder, who is listed as 5-foot-11, stood out as one of the best players on USA Baseball's 2009 16U National Team. He finished second on the team in hitting with a .545 batting average and had 16 extra-base hits among the 24 he collected in 44 at-bats. He capped off his summer by earning MVP honors of the IBAF World Youth Baseball Championship, which Team USA won over Cuba with a dramatic ninth-inning comeback.

"The first thing that comes to mind with him is he's the best instinctive baserunner that I've seen," said Jeff Singer, director of the 16U team. "If an outfielder made one tiny mistake, Austin saw it and he took advantage of it."

Cousino's instinct on the basepaths was never more evident than in the final inning of the IBAF championship game. Down by a run with one out in the top of the ninth, Cousino worked an 0-2 count into a walk to start the rally before going first to third on a single up the middle by shortstop Francisco Lindor. He then scored the tying run one batter later on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Kramer.

"He's kind of a Jacoby Ellsbury type, I think," Singer said. "Maybe not quite as fast, but his baserunning instincts make up a lot."

His performance for Team USA was part of the reason he earned an invite to the Tournament of Stars, where he played in three games, going 2-for-9 with a double. Despite recording just two hits, Cousino had an impact, walking three times and scoring four runs.

"There's very high expectations when you play for (USA)," Cousino said. "But it's also a really great time. You know the player beside you may one day be a first-round draft pick or a pro player one day."

Playing for Team USA has also taught Cousino how to play under pressure, as the games and workouts are littered with college and pro scouts.

"It's still fun, but it's a lot more serious," Cousino said. "When you've got 50 scouts behind the plate, it's not always just for fun. You realize you have to turn it up an extra gear."

Cousino learned that lesson early. In trials for the 16U team in California, he took batting practice in front of a multitude of scouts. Rather than staying with his approach, which consists of spraying line drives all over the park, he tried to hit the ball over the fence.

"I know that I was trying to swing a little bit harder, trying to hit balls as far as everyone else was, and here I am sitting 5-foot-9, 160," Cousino said. "It wasn't working too well."

Over time, he has grown comfortable with with the pressure that comes with playing in front of scouts.

"I think only experience can speak for that," Cousino said. "You don't really want to get off your game when you see them."