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Friday, April 8, 2011

Fan-favorite Austin named new RiverHawks manager

FROM PRESS RELEASE - LOVES PARK, Ill. – He's been nicknamed "The Cannon" and "The Franchise." Rockford RiverHawks fans can now call him "Skipper."

The RiverHawks on Friday introduced Richard Austin as the fourth manager in team history. Austin, 33, played for the RiverHawks in 2002-04 and again in 2010. He was the Frontier League Player of the Year in 2004, when the RiverHawks won Rockford's only professional baseball championship of the last half-century. Austin replaces Bob Koopmann, who managed the RiverHawks to that pennant. Austin also announced his retirement as a player Friday.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunity to start a new path in baseball," Austin said. "Thank you to the city of Rockford and the surrounding communities for the support they've given me during my playing years and I look forward to seeing our great fans this summer from a different angle.

"I've always had a strong commitment to this organization, which is one of the reasons I've moved my family here to Rockford. I've made Rockford my permanent home and would like to continue to grow with the organization."

In addition to his on-field duties, Austin has made regular appearances on the team's behalf throughout his career with the team.

"It's a thrill to be able to keep a fan favorite in the organization," RiverHawks general manager Brad Sholes said. "Rich has been a huge factor in our on-field success over the years and has always had a great understanding of the importance of community outreach for our organization. He is the face of the RiverHawks, and he will be our point man in the Stateline for speaking engagements, school visits, parades and other events."

Austin is a veteran who had signed with the RiverHawks for 2010, the team's lone season in the Northern League. With a return to the Frontier League, announced on Monday, the RiverHawks also return to a set of player-eligibility rules that made him too old to play in Rockford.

Austin spent half of his 10-year playing career with the organization. He broke into pro ball in 2001 with the Springfield Capitals, who relocated to cavernous Marinelli Field in Rockford and became the RiverHawks following the season. Austin spent 2002-04 and 2010 with the RiverHawks.

"I believe that this is a great hire for the RiverHawks," Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee said. "Rich is a class individual that presents a great face for the team. (Austin is) a former Frontier League MVP; I love to see former players come back to the league as coaches and managers. Rich is one of my all-time favorites."

Half of the Frontier League's 12 managers are former FL players. The others are Gateway's Phil Warren, River City's Steve Brook, Windy City's Mike Kashirsky, Florence's Fran Riordan and Washington's Darin Everson.

In 2004, Austin hit .359 to win the Frontier League batting title, and set single-season team records in home runs (15) and RBI (77) that still stand. Following the season, he was voted Frontier League Most Valuable Player, named by Baseball America magazine to its All-Independent Leagues All-Star Team and was signed by the Kansas City Royals.

Austin moved to the Northern League following his release by the Royals the next spring. He played for three playoff teams, including the 2006 pennant winner, with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. He also played briefly with Tabasco in the Mexican League in 2007 – he became the first former RiverHawk to play at the Triple-A level. Austin played for Fortitudo Bologna of the Italian Baseball League in 2008-09 and was part of a pennant winner his final year in Europe.

The outfielder-first baseman hit .296, the team's best average among batting-title qualifiers, with nine home runs and 55 RBI last year. He also walked 73 times, a team record and the best in the Northern League, to record a league-best .431 on-base percentage.

Austin finished his career with a .304 average, 104 home runs and 524 RBI. He holds the RiverHawks' career record for walks (247) and is second on the home-run (41), RBI (204), runs (225), hits (340) and outfield-assists (28) lists.

Austin played in all-star games in 2004-07 and was named to end-of-year all-star teams in 2004, 2005 and 2008.

The remainder of the coaching staff will be announced at a later date.

The RiverHawks open their 10th season at 7:05 p.m. Friday, May 20, when they host Traverse City. Advertising and ticket information is available by calling (815) 885-2255. Fans can also visit

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