by Taylor Isenberg
Standing on the mound at 6-foot-9 inches, Rochester University alum Austin Steinfort is a threat to anyone at home plate. Since May of this year, Steinfort has been playing professional baseball with the United Shore Professional Baseball League, an independent baseball league in historic downtown Utica, Mich. Jimmy John's Field, where the league plays, is just a quick 10 miles from Rochester’s campus where Steinfort played collegiate baseball.
Steinfort’s baseball career started at an early age when his parents signed him up to play summer T-ball to keep him out of trouble.
“I had the best arm on the team, so they kinda threw me in to pitch,” Steinfort says about his childhood baseball memories in his hometown of Holland, Mich. “I liked being a pitcher the best because I like being in charge. Nothing can happen until I throw the ball. I can control everything on the mound game-wise. I wanted to play infield or be a pitcher, or else I was that kid in the outfield picking grass every game.”
During his career at West Ottawa High School, Steinfort was almost cut from the baseball team. “Someone convinced the coaching staff to let me stay because I could eat up innings and throw strikes,” he said. Once he reached his senior year, Steinfort was beginning to be invited to NCAA Division I baseball camps, ultimately to be signed by Kalamazoo Valley Community College where he pitched for two seasons.
Steinfort, a right-handed pitcher, chose to go to a community college to gain experience and increase his velocity. He says his community college career was an uphill battle. “I only threw 7 innings in two years,” and he says he struggled to find the strike zone.
In 2015, Steinfort began to look to play baseball elsewhere. Cornerstone University and Rochester University both reached out to him with similar scholarships. Steinfort felt that he could do better under head coach Ryan Chipka and ultimately chose Rochester.
Two weeks before the baseball season began, Chipka called Steinfort to inform him he was taking a coaching job in Toledo. Scott Kunert became the head coach the first season Steinfort played at Rochester. “It was a big adjustment. I was already moving three hours away from home, to a whole new school, a new area and then a brand new coach,” he said.
In his first season with Rochester, Steinfort had the chance to go to the Small College World Series when the team finished third in the nation. “My favorite memory at Rochester was my first win at the mound against Kalamazoo College,” he said. In his senior season at Rochester, Steinfort led the Warriors in ERA, strikeouts and batting average. His name is forever etched in the record books at Rochester where he finished in the top-five in single-season ERA as well as top-10 in the career record book in innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA and complete games.
Toward the end of his senior season, Steinfort said Garth Pleasant, professor and former legendary Rochester basketball head coach, took interest in helping him. Steinfort’s pitch speed had topped out at 93 mph in 2018 when Pleasant wanted to have a Detroit Tigers scout come to a game. “I don’t know if a Tigers scout ever came to watch, but it definitely gave me some attention,” he said.
Steinfort graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He had planned on trying out for the USPBL after his senior season, but suffered severe elbow tendonitis. “I took the full summer off, no lifting, trying not to use my right arm to let my tendonitis heal,” he said. In the 2019 season, Kunert was able to get Steinfort a volunteer assistant coaching position at Rochester to allow the pitcher to train before trying out for the USPBL this past April.
Chris Newell, Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers Manager, said he was impressed with Steinfort during tryouts. “He’s got great size. He’s that prototypical ideal pitcher that every manager and scout look for. He threw a lot of strikes and he competed [on the team]. That’s something I needed to have coming into Opening Day.”
This Memorial Day, Steinfort started for the first time during a public game against the Westside Woolly Mammoths. He threw 5.2 innings, allowing one earned run, and struck out four. “It’s good to have my first public game under my belt, being in front of the fans with an atmosphere I’ve never really had before,” he said.
Steinfort said he was encouraged by that start and hopes to continue improving his performance throughout the season.