HOUSTON -- Austin Wates believed he had something to give, a message to tell the kids at his former high school. Sure, he's in the early stages of a budding baseball career, but the kind of advice Wates wanted to share had much more to do with life and the challenges ahead.
No one sat Wates down while he was in high school at St. Christopher's School in Richmond, Va., and told him what it means to be a leader, the importance of working hard or just how crucial it is to manage time wisely, especially heading into college.
That's why Wates -- an outfielder in the Astros' farm system -- returned to his alma mater this offseason and volunteered to mentor students a few days a week. He started in September and plans to finish this week so he can concentrate on his offseason workouts, but the time he spent with the kids has been rewarding.
"I didn't have a whole lot to do this offseason as far as baseball went and I figured I would try and do something productive in that regard," Wates said. "A lot of the kids I talked to want to play sports in college and I could help them in that as well as far as recruiting goes and even things they could do to help themselves out in what they should be doing in school and making sure they're keeping their extracurriculars up. It's been a positive experience."
Wates grew up in Seattle and moved to the East Coast during his junior year in high school to be closer to his mother's side of the family. He enrolled at St. Christopher's, an all boys, private Catholic school that provided a bit of culture shock.
"The community was so tightly knit," Wates said. "I remember the first day I walked on campus, there were computers everywhere and kids were leaving their backpacks and computers and I wasn't used to that. There was no real honor code at my last school, and that's something this school really values. Theft isn't a problem. That was really far-fetched to me coming in, so to see that was a little bit different.
"The fact I didn't have to worry about leaving my backpack somewhere and worry about it getting taken, I thought that was really cool. The teachers are super hands-on as far as their approach to teaching and the way they want you to learn and understand things. They're willing to spend countless hours with you, going over material with you."
Wates volunteers about two hours a day at the school, and his life lessons have been well received by both faculty and students.
"The teachers love having me around the kids," he said. "Six years ago, I was in high school hanging out and they were giving me grades, but now they see I want to help."
Many of the kids Wates mentors are athletes, which makes his advice even more valuable.
"I told this one kid that I didn't learn how to be a great student until I got to college because there's time management," he said. "When you work hard in the classroom, it reflects on the field as well in the things you do and the way you go about your workouts. That kind of stuff rubs off of you. I was basically telling him that if he can stay focused in the classroom, it would change his performance on the field."
Wates, 24, had a solid season in 2012 at Double-A Corpus Christi, hitting .304 with seven homers, 48 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for the Hooks. He also made a remarkable catch while falling over the center-field fence, a grab which garnered him some national attention.
Drafted in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Virginia Tech, he was named the Most Valuable Player at Class A Lancaster in 2011 and is likely to begin the 2013 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"I ended up being pretty happy with my season," he said. "I was a little bit disappointed with the injuries. I had two of them and missed about a month total, which hurt as far as getting more at-bats. Overall, I thought I put together a pretty productive season and got more time in center field, which I really think will help me for next year."
As far as helping in the community goes, Wates believes he's got plenty left to give.
"I think, honestly, this is the beginning," he said. "I've done some volunteering with groups like Meals on Wheels and stuff like that, but this is the first time I've been able to take my own personal experience and give it to other people, which I think is pretty cool. I'm going to try and continue to do that into next offseason. I have to figure out where I can direct the energy to, but it's definitely something I wanted to continue to do."