By Trey Wilson
His time in Altoona came and went like a blur, but Austin Meadows made a major mark during his brief time with the Curve.
He played just 51 regular-season games and suited up for four playoff games between 2015 and this year in a Curve uniform, and he supplied some memorable moments for Altoona fans.
The biggest came in the first game he ever played at Peoples Natural Gas Field during the 2015 Eastern League Playoffs. With an early 7-0 deficit nearly erased, Meadows came to the plate with the Curve down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the best closer in the league, Bowie’s Andrew Triggs, who had gone a perfect 17-for-17 in save chances up to that point.
Meadows launched a two-run homer of the right-field wall, tying the game and setting up Jacob Stallings’ walk-off single in one of the most memorable games played at PNG Field.
Even though the Baysox went on to win the series on their way to their first Eastern League title, Meadows had given a preview of what he could do when he returned to Altoona to start 2016.
The beginning of his season was delayed after he suffered an injury in spring training, and he hit just .192 through his first 21 games.
“Hitting is just a process,” Meadows said. “I was really trying to stick to the same routine. I was hitting balls hard, and that was my goal up there every day. Trying to help the team win, have good at-bats and hit the ball hard.”
Beginning on May 23, hits started to fall for the Pirates’ second-ranked prospect, and they never stopped. Over the next few weeks, Meadows went on a franchise-record 24-game hitting streak, in which he batted .404 with six triples, twelve doubles and six homers.
He was showing the potential that the Pirates saw when they selected him with the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga. He robbed a potential three-run homer from former Curve Quincy Latimore at Bowie on May 30, and then hit one of his own just moments later to tie the game. He made timely diving catches in the outfield. He showed off his speed on the base paths, driving five triples in four games from June 1-June 4.
Meadows maintained throughout the streak that he “wasn’t impressed” by it, just focusing on each new day. But on June 18, after finding out he was being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, he finally broke down and took a moment to appreciate the feat he had accomplished.
“I think now, looking back on it, it was really fun to be a part of something like that,” Meadows said. “Even with other people talking about it on social media, the buzz all over, it was pretty cool to be able to break that record. Even with it coming to an end, I was fortunate for it to last 24 games.”
The streak surpassed the previous Altoona record of 21 straight games with a hit, set by Kevin Sefcik back in 2002. Many accomplished hitters have passed through Altoona, including names like Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and Jose Bautista, but no one had ever put together a stretch like Meadows did over that three-week span.
“I was just staying aggressive up there,” Meadows said. “But that list of hitters, it’s very cool to be up there with those guys.”
Meadows mostly kept the streak out of his head during games, but on June 15 he stepped into the box in the eighth inning hitless through his three trips to the plate with one last chance to extend it to 23 games.
“It was definitely in my head for sure,” Meadows said. “I tried to keep it out of my head as much as possible, but it was definitely in there.”
He snuck a double inside the third-base line to keep the streak alive, and he added one more game to his record with a first-inning home run the next night in what would be his final game with Altoona.
Manager Joey Cora and hitting coach Kevin Riggs informed him the next day that he was being promoted to Triple-A.
“He became a very complete player,” Cora said. “He was dominating the league. That’s why we moved him up. He was dominating the league. He had no business being here anymore. He needed a new challenge, and that’s why he moved up.”
After adjusting from the early-season struggles, Meadows’ development appeared to outgrow the Double-A level.
“He kind of figured it out all by himself, what it took to be successful,” Cora said. “After that he showed a complete player, on the field in center, and the last few days when he played left field he was good, his throwing got a lot better. He started stealing bases, hitting the ball hard, hitting doubles, hitting triples.”
Meadows was surprised to earn the promotion so quickly, but was excited for the opportunity.
“It’s amazing how this is already happening for me,” Meadows said. “I’m really fortunate and blessed to be in this position. We have a great team here (in Altoona), and I hope they get a championship. I’m looking forward to keeping up with those guys.”
Meadows added two more games to his overall streak after the promotion, clubbing three hits in his first Triple-A game on June 18 and knocking a home run the next night.
Now the 16th-ranked prospect in the minors, Meadows is on the doorstep of breaking into the big leagues.
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