EAST MANATEE - Braden River coach John Carlock asks his players to be at the park two hours before every game, but it doesn't surprise him anymore when he shows up at 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game and most of his players are already dressed and ready to get going.
With no seniors on the roster and still a new program to preside over, Carlock has his concerns, but his team's work ethic and love of the game aren't among them.
Austin Pearson is one of those early arrivals. As a captain, a catcher and the Pirates' cleanup hitter, his example is one Carlock is glad to see the young players emulate.
"Just the way he goes about getting ready, he has a business-like attitude about what he needs to do," Carlock said. "As you look at these other ninth- and 10th-graders out there, they are helter-skelter, and you have to be on them constantly. But he's like one of us (coaches) out there now. He's out there telling kids how to be ready. That's what we were telling him to do last year."
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Pearson isn't bad on the field either. Through Monday he was leading the team in RBIs, and Carlock pointed to him as being on a tear in the early going this season. "I feel like I've improved a bunch," said Pearson, who hit his first high school home run in a loss to Wauchula Hardee. "I'm making good contact, seeing the ball better and driving it harder."
But when asked about his stats, Pearson talked about team goals and trying to make the Pirates better, more consistent. His goals in the offseason centered around the Pirates, not Austin Pearson.
"I wanted to show more leadership, to have other players step up and lead other players instead of just having three players do it," Pearson said of the 4-4 Pirates. "We can pick people up when they are down and tell them to forget about it."
Vincent Keen, the other Pirates captain, has played with Pearson since they were members of the Rough Riders, an AAU team based at G.T. Bray. That was about seven years ago, and they are still together.
Keen has emerged as one of the best arms in Manatee County, and his early success can be attributed in part to the bond he and Pearson share as battery mates.
Through the years, they have developed a sense of the proper pitch and location for every situation. Pearson knows how Keen's curve is supposed to look when it's right and when a visit to the mound for a quick talk is necessary.
"I've known him so long that we have that connection between each other," Keen said. "We know what each other is thinking. I've known him so long, I know he's got my back."
Though Pearson was one of the Pirates' key players last season, he was in a tough spot. Only a sophomore, he was counted on to be one of the team leaders. This year, he is better able to be the person his coaches and teammates need him to be.
Carlock said he can see Pearson becoming one of the first Pirates athletes to play college ball. He thinks college coaches might be most attracted to the way Pearson handles himself behind the plate.
"We tell our catchers constantly that they are the only ones facing eight of their teammates, and they all look to (the catcher) for leadership," said Carlock, who added that former Palmetto player and current Washington Nationals farmhand Brian Peacock has worked with Pearson on his approach to the catching position. "What you do back there, and how you hustle, and how you work is what the team will perceive and the other team is gonna perceive."
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