Baseball and summertime go together like the beach and sunscreen.

Throw in some red, white and blue and it’s a recipe for an unforgettable few months.

Canyon junior Austin Stracener got the opportunity of a lifetime this past July when he was once again selected for the USA National Team Development Program. The shortstop qualified for an elite group that was selected to practice and perform as an all-star team against some of the best prospects in the nation.

Stracener, who was a part of the 17U group, said he felt extremely proud to represent his hometown, his family, his school and his country.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had baseball-wise,” Stracener said. “Being able to wear the USA across my chest was one thing, and getting to represent Canyon and New Braunfels as a city was really cool. It was second to none.”

Stracener was able to qualify for the program after participating in a tournament in Florida and ultimately making the cut. There was also a tournament in Arizona for the West Coast participants.

Once the teams — Stars and Stripes — were chosen, the players headed to Chicago for a whirlwind tour of the area that included some pretty incredible perks.

“We got to play at Wrigley Field,” Stracener said. “We got to tour around Chicago for a little bit and we went to Wisconsin and Indiana and got to play at the Notre Dame baseball field and Miller Park, which is the stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers. We got to tour the locker room, media room, got to go in the batting cages and hit batting practice there. We also played the games there. All around, the experience was great. It was baseball every day. All of the players there were amazing. I built new friendships and it was really cool to see me against some of the better players in the country and I did really well.”

For any high-schooler, stepping into the batter’s box at Wrigley seems an impossible dream at that age. But for Stracener, it became reality.

“Before every at-bat, I would look around me and just take everything in with where I was,” Stracener said. “Not too many people can say they’ve played at two Major League parks when they’re 16, so that was definitely crazy. It felt like some of my dreams are starting to come true and if I work hard, someday I can do that every day.”

Stracener has already committed to Texas A&M University and is part of an up-and-coming program at Canyon. This past season, the Cougars won 25 games — their most since 2008 — and qualified for the postseason.

Individually, Stracener earned District 26-6A first team honors after batting .262 with 28 runs scored and 26 RBIs.

“I think last year set the expectation for this year and I think we really have a good shot this year,” Stracener said. “There’s going to be some new leaders on this team and returning players. Our team was really young last year. I think Canyon is really building its way up there to be able to be one of the teams that can make a run at the state championship.”

The Cougars welcomed former UTSA coach Jim Blair into the mix recently and he’s set to take the reins prior to the 2020 season. Stracener was competing in a tournament when Blair was introduced, but the junior said he’s heard nothing but positives about the new man in charge.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting him,” Stracener said.

When Stracener returns to the Cougars, he’ll try to spark another history-making run to the playoffs. In addition to honing his skills in the diamond, the shortstop said his time with the USA program taught him other important lessons.

“Every year I try and go play the biggest events, the biggest tournaments so I can see the best competition in the country — just to help me get ready for the high school season,” Stracener said. “They taught us a lot about being a good teammate and being a leader. Wearing the USA across your chest, it makes you into a role model and you really have to set the tone for everyone.”

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