Athmann shows off hitting power

The junior catcher struggled to stay healthy his first two collegiate seasons.

Gophers catcher Austin Athmann swings at a pitch at Siebert Field on Mar. 31, 2015.

Alex Tuthill-Preus, Daily File Photo

Gophers catcher Austin Athmann swings at a pitch at Siebert Field on Mar. 31, 2015.

Kaitlin Merkel

When Austin Athmann was hit in the head by a pitch on March 19 at Utah Valley, he was removed from the game due to the resulting minor concussion.
 
 
He missed two games but was cleared to play last weekend against Missouri State, and he ended up hitting his team-leading fourth home run. The junior catcher has been a solid contributor to the Gophers lineup when healthy, but one pitch interrupted what’s been his best season at the plate so far.
 
 
“It definitely shook me up a little bit, physically and mentally. It’s tough to get back in the box after you see a ball coming at your face,” Athmann said. “[But] it was mainly precautionary just to make sure the symptoms went completely away, and then I was cleared to go.”
 
 
Athmann has already battled numerous injuries at Minnesota. He missed time his freshman year after having surgery on the nerves in his right elbow, and he had surgery on the labrum of his left hip at the end of last season.
 
 
He’s been healthy outside of one pitch this season, though, and is leading the Gophers at the plate  In 64 at-bats Athmann has a team-best .406 batting average to go along with a .750 slugging percentage.
 
 
He has also recorded a team-high 10 doubles and is second on the team with 16 RBIs.
 
 
Athmann said his summer playing for the St. Cloud Rox in the Northwoods League helped him prepare for this season. He played in 57 games for the Rox and batted .292.
 
 
“The whole summer and playing in the Northwoods League is what really helped me the most,” Athmann said. “Just getting the amount of at-bats is what you need as a hitter.”
 
 
Gophers head coach John Anderson said he’s been waiting to see this kind of production from the Cold Spring, Minn., native.
 
 
“Since we recruited him, I knew he had outstanding ability. … He’s had a lot to overcome in terms of surgeries and being healthy and rehabbing,” Anderson said. “It’s paying off for him; I’m not surprised. I thought he had a high level of ability coming out of high school. He’s just had a pretty bumpy ride until this year. So it’s a testament to what he’s put in to get himself back on the field.”
 
 
Senior infielder Connor Schaefbauer said it’s nice to see his teammate finally healthy as the team’s regular catcher.
 
 
“Austin is a big part of our lineup, and he’s very important on defense, obviously. He does a lot of work for us behind the plate,” Schaefbauer said. “He’s going to be a mainstay in the middle of our lineup. … It’s been very nice so far to have his production.”
 
 
Athmann said he hasn’t taken his early success this season for granted, especially since it comes after rehabbing from two surgeries.
 
 
“I’m really happy with myself that I kept a positive attitude through [the rehabs] and that it is paying off right now,” Athmann said. “It’s very rewarding to have the success that I am right now.”