Today’s GameWho: Rochester Rhinos vs. Charleston BatteryWhen: 7:30 p.m.Where: Blackbaud StadiumRecords: Rochester 1-6-1 (4 points); Charleston 6-2-0 (18 points)Tickets: 971-4625Radio: WQNT 1450-AM
Ronnie and Austin Savage made the pilgrimage to Blackbaud Stadium for nearly every Charleston Battery home match.
They would make their way through the parking lot, drift over to the stands and find a couple of seats in section five.
Ronnie and son Austin would sit and talk about everything under the sun, but always the conversation would inevitably wander back to soccer.
As Austin grew older, he got a chance to be a ball boy for the Battery about a half-dozen times. As a kid, Austin thought that would be about as close as he would ever come to getting on the pitch and donning a Battery uniform.
But life has a funny way of turning out.
Austin, a former Stratford High School soccer star who daydreamed of playing for the Battery when he was growing up, is a midfielder for the team he grew up idolizing.
“It’s kind of surreal to think about it now,” Austin said. “I grew up watching the Battery and getting autographs from guys like Paul Conway, Dusty Hudock and Mark Watson and never thinking that one day I might be one of those guys.”
A rookie, Austin still catches himself looking into the stands and seeing his father in their old seats. A part of Austin wants to be in the stands, sitting next to his father talking again, but Ronnie wouldn’t hear of it.
“Austin is exactly where he should be right now,” Ronnie said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am. It’s truly an awesome feeling to see your son living his dream. There are times when I wish he was up in the stands with me, but I’m just being selfish. I miss those talks, but there’s such a feeling of pride, I can’t even put it into words.”
Austin isn’t just a local kid making good, he’s the first product of the Battery’s USSF Development Academy team, Bridge FA, to earn a contract with the parent club.
“There always has to be that first player to break the barrier,” said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. “I can remember Austin playing on the youth teams and seeing how skilled he was even back then.”
Despite scoring more than 100 goals at Stratford, Austin had few college offers. He ended up picking Clemson over South Carolina and the College of Charleston.
Austin led the Tigers in scoring during his junior and senior seasons — finishing his career with 24 goals and 12 assists.
Coming out of Clemson he hoped to sign with a team from Major League Soccer. While he drew some interest, he wasn’t able to secure a contract.
He returned home and got a tryout with the Battery during the club’s preseason tournament — the Carolina Challenge Cup — in February. He scored a goal against Houston with his father watching from right behind the net.
“I was hootin’ and hollerin’ and pumping my fist,” Ronnie said. “It was a great moment. I knew he’d probably earned a contract with that goal.”
Austin signed with the Battery a few days later. He has played in four games for the Battery. He got the game-winning goal Tuesday night in the Battery’s 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers U23 team in the U.S. Open Cup.
“They say that first goal is the toughest,” Austin said. “I got that off my back, and hopefully, it’s the first of many to come.”
Austin said while playing for the Battery has fulfilled a dream, he’s hoping it’s a stepping stone to the MLS.
“Hopefully, this is just the start of my pro career.”