‘Traveling man’ relishes chance to spend rare spring at home in N.C.

Posted 4/17/20

If there is one song former Northwood baseball standout and current Boston Red Sox player Austin Brice could relate to, it probably would be Ricky Nelson’s tune that hit No. 1 on the pop charts …

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‘Traveling man’ relishes chance to spend rare spring at home in N.C.

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If there is one song former Northwood baseball standout and current Boston Red Sox player Austin Brice could relate to, it probably would be Ricky Nelson’s tune that hit No. 1 on the pop charts back in 1961 entitled “Travelin‘ Man,” which starts out “I’m a travelin’ man, made a lot of stops all over the world …”

Born in Hong Kong during a time when his father did a lot of construction work internationally, young Austin traveled wherever his parents went, including stops in Puerto Rico and China besides various locations across the southeastern United States, before his mother decided around the time he was in grade school that she was tired of moving and wanted the family to stay in one spot.

At that point in Brices’s life, his father was working in Cary and the family settled down near Pittsboro, which led to Austin eventually attending Northwood High School.

While he was passionate about playing sports at an early age, he soon realized he preferred baseball over all others and focused his attention in that direction.

“Growing up I was like a jack-of-all-trades, playing all positions in the field,” Brice said during a recent interview. “I was just happy to be playing wherever my coaches needed me.”

Once he arrived at Northwood in 2007, Brice became a four-year starter for former baseball coach Rick Parks, playing various positions including outfield, pitcher, middle infield, third base and even behind the plate once, while he started at shortstop his very first game as a freshman.

Many local fans may not recall he also was a four-year soccer player and was a member of the Chargers’ team that played in the 2010 state championship game his senior year. But it was on the diamond where he drew the most attention during his tenure at Northwood.

Selected to the All-State and All-Conference baseball teams both his junior and senior seasons, he was once clocked throwing 97 miles per hour in high school. Upon graduation he had offers to attend UNC-Wilmington and N.C. State before committing to play for Appalachian State. But he opted instead to enter professional baseball’s amateur draft in the spring of 2010 and was chosen in the ninth round by the Florida Marlins.

“While I could throw hard, I wasn’t always efficient with my mechanics and got tired easily,” Brice said. “But I feel like I was drafted because management felt I showed flashes of potential.”

After a six-year stint in the minor leagues playing for a variety of teams including the Gulf Coast Marlins, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Jupiter Hammerheads, Jacksonville Suns, New Orleans Zephyrs and Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Brice made baseball history at age 24 as he became the first Hong Kong-born player to appear in the major leagues when he made his professional debut against the Chicago White Sox in Marlins Park on August 12, 2016, striking out two of the three batters he faced in one inning of work.

He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in June 2017 and performed out of the bullpen for two years before rejoining the Marlins in February 2019. During his four-year professional career in the National League, he appeared in 106 games, compiling an overall record of 3-4 with an ERA of 4.90. He threw 128.2 innings, gave up 118 hits and 77 runs (70 earned) while walking 43 batters and striking out 118.

In January, Brice was traded to the Boston Red Sox and is currently on the team’s 40-man roster. He was enjoying preseason with his new club at its spring training facility, JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida, having made five appearances on the mound while pitching 6.2 innings, giving up three hits and no runs in addition to issuing one free pass and fanning 10.

“I found my groove early this spring, and we were less than two weeks away from packing our bags and heading to Boston when everything got shot down by the coronavirus outbreak,” Brice said. “Now we’re in a holding pattern until the league and the government decides we can play again.”

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement announcing Opening Day “will be pushed back in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. Players and fans will be updated on decisions regarding plans for the 2020 schedule in the days and weeks ahead, and clubs remain committed to playing ‘as many games as possible’ once the season begins.”

In the wake of the shutdown, Brice is spending his first spring in North Carolina since his senior year at Northwood with wife Krystin and their four-year-old son and newborn baby girl.

“Since I was drafted, all my springs have been spent either in Florida or Arizona,” he said. “But with the current standstill, we moved back to Chatham County for the time being to be near our support network of family and friends.”

In the meantime he is staying in shape, utilizing pieces of workout equipment he has collected while finding open areas like soccer fields to get in some running.

“Like any business we’re anxious to get things started again so everyone involved can get back to making a living,” Brice said.

But for now Brice can only hope the next travel plans he makes take him to Boston’s Fenway Park where he looks forward to making his American League debut.

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