Senior Spring: Austen Michel closes out Dartmouth baseball career after battling through injury

by Devan Fink and Benjamin Ashley | 5/22/20 2:00am

Source: Courtesy of Austen Michel '20

Pitcher Austen Michel ’20 had an impressive Big Green career, succeeding on the field while overcoming injuries along the way. After a strong first year, he broke out in his sophomore season, leading the Ivy League with seven saves, along with a team-best 3.38 ERA and an All-Ivy League Second Team spot as a relief pitcher. Following an injury-plagued junior year, Michel emerged as the team’s opening day starter and co-captain his senior season.

Before Dartmouth, Michel shone on the field in high school, posting a 1.40 ERA over his junior and senior years. Michel said that when he visited Dartmouth, he fell in love with the school. When the Big Green offered him a roster spot after his senior year, he promptly accepted it.

“I loved the school, loved the program, loved the coaching staff — everything about it,” Michel said. “So when they ended up offering me [a spot], I took it the next day.”

Prior to joining the Big Green, however, Michel attended Cheshire Academy for a postgraduate year, leading his team to a regional championship victory as captain. Michel used the extra year to ease the transition into college, helping him to excel out of the gate when he arrived in Hanover. 

“He was older than the rest of us by a year, and just like — he was more mature, he looked like he’d handled more than we could, just as freshmen he seemed like an older guy,” said Blake Crossing ’20, Michel’s co-captain. “Even in those first weeks — even [orientation week] — he just seemed like a more mature guy … He looked like he’d been there before.” 

While Michel said that he recognizes the importance of his postgrad year at Cheshire in smoothing out the social and athletic transition to college, he also credited upperclassmen at Dartmouth for teaching him how to excel in college baseball.

“We had a lot of seniors … that showed us how to carry [ourselves], showed us how to learn from each other and how to develop as people and as baseball players,” Michel said. “Especially guys like Beau Sulser [’17] ... Just watching him pitch, how he warmed up, how he treated his stuff, how he treated his starts, all of that. You just learn from it.”

After posting a team-high 12.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio his freshman year, Michel dominated on the mound his sophomore year. Named the team’s Pitcher of the Year, Michel excelled in relief, allowing the fewest walks per nine innings in the Ivy League (1.39) and boasting the lowest batting average against (.249) on the team. He stood out as a closer for his long outings, often finishing games with multiple innings in relief.

“What he wanted is what coaches cherish,” head coach Bob Whalen said. “He’s the type of kid who could get three to six outs in Game 1 on Saturday, and as soon as the game was over, before shaking hands with his teammates, he’d come over to me and go, ‘Hey skip, I want you to know I can go in Game 2.’”

Michel best showcased his endurance and flexibility in a relief appearance against Brown University in 2018, during which Michel entered the game in the seventh and pitched seven scoreless innings out of the bullpen to seal the victory, allowing only one hit.

Fellow pitcher Michael Parsons ’20 remembered Michel’s heroic performance against Brown.

“That [Brown] game especially was kind of the encapsulation of how dominant he was, especially sophomore year,” Parsons said. “Once he came into the game, there wasn’t much the other team could really do.”

Michel faced shoulder problems his junior year, which kept him out for the whole season. But instead of making excuses, Michel continued to grind as hard as ever. Parsons recalled Michel’s tough but impactful junior year.

“He took that challenge and … tried to bring up the team in every other way possible,” Parsons said. “He was trying to also set an example everywhere that wasn’t the baseball field because that’s all he could do.”

Whalen also underscored Michel’s leadership, noting his ability to help better his teammates.

“He has the ability to give either a kind word or a stern reminder of how we do things,” Whalen said. “A lot of that [happens] away from coaches. It’s in the clubhouse, it’s on campus, it’s at social events and parties, things of that nature — [he keeps] guys on track.”

Michel said that he learned a lot from his injury-riddled junior season, realizing that he could not take his time on the field for granted.

“You just got to keep working hard because you don’t know when your opportunities are going to come and when [they’re] going to get sidelined, and what’s going to happen,” Michel said. “Just enjoying each moment and taking every opportunity that you have to make yourself better.”

Whalen wasn’t surprised when Michel’s teammates elected him as one of the team’s two co-captains before his senior campaign. 

“Some guys have a transcendent impact, and he’s one of those guys,” Whalen said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s all about winning and understanding what it takes, and intuitively has a really good feel for people. Very early in his career, it was obvious that he had the respect of his teammates, and he certainly had the respect of the coaches from the day he got here.”

Following a complete recovery from his shoulder injury, he transitioned to a starting role, earning the team’s opening day nod — a fitting culmination for his hard work. In his season-opening start, Michel pitched 6.2 innings, giving up just one run. Unfortunately, Michel only started one more game before the season ended abruptly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although his Dartmouth career has ended due to the Ivy League’s upholding of its eligibility policies, Michel has considered using his extra year of NCAA eligibility and has entered the transfer portal to explore his options for a fifth year. Michel currently has a job lined up at an information services company in New York City in the fall, but he said that he is still in contact with coaches from other schools about playing another year of college baseball.

Irrespective of Michel’s plans, Whalen highlighted why the Big Green will miss his contributions both on and off the field next year. 

“Frankly, the kid is just great to be around,” Whalen said. “He’s smart, he’s funny, he loves baseball, he’s passionate about being a good teammate. He always put the program first. He’s someone you have respect for. He just does things the right way without being told, which is not surprising … I’m going to miss him.”

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