| May 22, 2023
By CCL Reporter Sam Nute
(WALNUT CREEK, CA) - The Walnut Creek Crawdads follow a similar structure to most sports organizations. Longtime owner, general manager, and head coach Brant Cummings runs the day-to-day operations, recruiting players to Northern California, overseeing administration and finances, and coaching his squad through games and training sessions.
Cummings is a baseball guy through and through, dedicating his entire life to the game—and it shows. Cumming was named 2022 General Manager of the Year by his California Collegiate League peers.
Delegating and recognizing up-and-coming talent are important tasks in running any organization.
This year, Walnut Creek’s GM role is occupied by someone fans might not expect. Twenty-year-old Austin Ota is a journalism major at the University of Oregon and spent the 2022 season as the Crawdads’ play-by-play broadcaster and marketing manager.
“Walnut Creek is about an hour away…,” Ota, a San Jose native, said. “I reached out, and I pretty much got the [broadcasting] job right away which was really, really cool to have that job security for a summer as a freshman…” Ota loved the work he did with the team, and he saw the love and care Cummings was putting into all the work he did for the Crawdads.
Ota wanted very much to come back for another year and asked Cummings if he needed help. Cummings offered Ota the job of hiring all the Crawdads’ interns for the summer, and Ota attacked the opportunity.
The job has turned into much more than that.
“I started the intern hiring process in about October and then had them pretty much finalized by January,” Ota said. “Then, over the last couple of months, it’s kind of just grown to me and Brant talking pretty much every day either on the phone or over text. He’s asked me to…find players and set up sponsorship contracts…”
Trusting a sophomore in college to help find players, organize sponsorship deals, and oversee marketing is a bold move that other owners might not take, but Cummings saw something in Ota that he doesn’t see in a lot of people very often. Cummings referenced Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.
“Tony La Russa said this many years ago when he was in St. Louis as the skipper,” Cummins said. “He said, ‘You want to have people that care. When you lose, they’re not giddy about it. When you win, they’re happy, and they’re pleased with the success.
“If I were to describe how Austin feels about our organization, he loves it. He loves the team, and he wants to see us win on the field as well as off the field. And there aren’t a lot of people in this business that feel that way about any of these teams. There are some people that will take positions…It’s just a resume builder. It’s rare to find someone who cares about the team as much as he did…It’s rare to find someone who cares about the team as much as he did.”
The care and love that Cummings showed for the Crawdads leaked over to Ota, who, with his new promotion, led to an increase in the amount of time Cummings and Ota communicated. The pair have developed a strong working relationship.
“We had a call at the end of last season where we just sat and talked for like an hour about what we wanted from this, what I thought could be better…,” Ota said. “Since then, he’s just become like a father figure, like a mentor to me. I feel like I can call him any time of the day; he’ll text me any time of the day and either check on me and how I’m doing personally or ask me things about the team. He celebrates all the little things like they’re the biggest thing in the world, which is really important to me.”
This summer could be a breakout year for Walnut Creek. Crawdads’ fans can expect to see some familiar faces returning for the 2023 season. Texas Tech infielder and 2022 CCL Showcase Game participant, Ryan Brome, is returning to build off his highly successful 2022 campaign. In 39 games with the Crawdads last season, Brome had a .363 average walking 28 times.
Joining Brome on the infield is St. Mary’s junior and 2022 CCL All-League selection, Ryan Ellis. Like Brome, Ellis had an outstanding 2022 summer with the Crawdads, hitting .356 with four home runs and 15 doubles.
Perhaps the Crawdads’ most exciting addition for the 2023 season is University of Nebraska reliever, Corbin Hawkins. In 38.1 innings with the Big Red so far this year, Hawkins has struck out 30 to the tune of a 2.35 ERA and has not allowed a single home run.
“We’re getting these guys that I think are proven hitters [too],” Ota said. “I think we’re going to be really, really good this year. I’m very excited for what the Crawdads are going to do.”
With a mix of returning talent and new blood, the Crawdads are looking to improve on a second-place finish in the North Division and a 2022 CCL State Championship appearance.
Cummings, Ota, and the rest of the Crawdads’ organization could see push for even more in 2023.
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