Austin Gerding
Austin Gerding at the plate for Eastern Oregon. (Photo by Eastern Oregon University)

Former Philomath High School sports standout Austin Gerding loves baseball. It’s been five years now since he roamed center field for the Warriors and he continues to play the game collegiately at Eastern Oregon University.

A recurring shoulder injury has hampered Gerding’s baseball journey with a series of challenges that might force many to just give it all up. 

Austin Gerding
Austin Gerding

“I definitely feel fortunate to still be playing,” Gerding said during a phone interview from La Grande Tuesday evening. “Obviously, I’m a big, internally-motivated guy but I mean to play this long, I feel like you get to the point where you’re playing for your coaches and your players and all of the guys who you’ve gotten close with.

“I just kinda think about when I was a kid, you know, I probably would have wanted to get the most out of myself,” he added. “And so I just feel like I owe it to my younger self to play as long as I possibly can.”

Gerding’s only full collegiate season before this year came back during his freshman campaign in 2018 at Chemeketa Community College when he hit .298 and started in center field. But later that year, he suffered a torn labrum, underwent surgery and missed the 2019 season while rehabbing.

In 2020, Gerding was hitting .279 and in right field during a 9-3 start for Chemeketa when the coronavirus pandemic took hold and led to the season’s cancellation. An extra year of eligibility had been granted, but Gerding had earned his associate’s degree and was ready to move on to a four-year school to continue his education and play ball.

The nagging arm problem and recruiting limitations because of the pandemic took a toll.

“The arm just started becoming an issue and the more years that I just sat there, honestly, the fewer offers that came through,” Gerding said. “So I was fortunate enough to have Eastern Oregon reach out and actually had two of my uncles who played ball over here — my mom’s brothers — and so that’s what got me initially interested in the area. I just talked to them and made it happen. I’m happy to be here for sure.”

Gerding’s uncles, Eric and Brian Olson, grew up in Banks and played for EOU back in the 1990s.

Gerding had star status when suiting up for the Warriors in high school. During his senior season in 2017, he was named Class 4A’s Co-Player of the Year after hitting .506. The issues with his shoulder first started during his PHS years.

“I originally tore it up in high school and I had the one surgery at Chemeketa,” Gerding said. “Then I had another labrum repair surgery last season so I’m just trying to get back to 100%.”

This latest road to recovery has been a true challenge.

“It’s been a little bit tough this year,” he said. “I didn’t really have a lot of recovery time. I just got through my six months of PT (physical therapy) and then my next season was here.”

Gerding started the season playing his usual position but he’s now just seeing time at the plate.

“I was starting every day in center field and it just got to the point where the throws were getting a little too taxing,” he said. “The throws were starting to hurt me enough to where it was starting to affect my swing. … So I moved into the designated hitter role.”

Based on his eligibility status — redshirt sophomore — Gerding could still be playing for a couple of more years.

“My plans are to play one more year for sure and then depending on how that goes, if my body holds up, we’ll try to come back,” said Gerding, who is currently a senior academically but would enter the master’s program.

Gerding is studying exercise and sports science that could lead to a career as an athletic trainer, or he may decide to transition into education with an interest in teaching physical education and health.

Just this week, Gerding earned the honor of being included on the Cascade Collegiate Conference’s Spring U.S. Bank Academic All-Conference Team, which requires a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.2.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.