When the North Adams Steeple Cats begin their New England Collegiate Baseball League season next month, their fist-year manager will know how to navigate through the summer baseball waters.
Chris Cates, who played for the SteepleCats in 2005, will be the field boss at Joe Wolfe Field this summer, replacing Bryan Adamski.
"North Adams has always been a special place to me because I had a great summer up there -- not just baseball-wise, but being part of the community," Cates said. "The year we were there, I was really grateful for how we were all treated and the way the community just took us in as if we had been playing there for years.
"They were always very appreciative of us playing and playing hard, win or lose."
Cates, who had a five-year minor league career in the Minnesota Twins organization, is currently in his second year as an assistant baseball coach at Florida State, one of college baseball’s elite teams.
The SteepleCats will open their NECBL season Friday, June 6 against the Valley Blue Sox in Holyoke. That is the former Holyoke Blue Sox team. The Sox will visit Joe Wolfe Sunday, June 8 at 4:30 p.m., in the Steeple Cats’ home opener.
Cates, who played his college baseball at the University of Louisville, was the NECBL’s top defensive player in 2005, a second-team All-Star and the most valuable player in the NECBL All-Star Game.
He was drafted in the 38th round of the 2007 MLB Draft by Minnesota, and got as high as Class AA New Britain. He was also an All-Star in the Class A Midwest League and in the Eastern League.
Cates might not get to North Adams on time, though. His Seminoles are the No. 2 seed in the ongoing ACC baseball tournament and are likely be a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tourn ament. That would make them a favorite to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
North Adams general manager Johno Hinkell and Cates go back to 2005 when Hinkell was the bullpen catcher for the SteepleCats. Cates got the job in the fall, and has been working on putting the team and his staff together.
Josh Parrow, who just finished his third year as the pitching coach at the University of Bridgeport, will have the same job in North Adams. Steven Crabtree, an assistant at NAIA Webber International University, will be the other assistant.
According to the most recent roster, Cates will be managing players from 13 different states and one Canadian province. Included on the North Adams roster is John Kinne of Great Barrington, who hit .323 last summer for the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. He was eighth in the league’s batting race.
Cates said he has been keeping tabs on his players as he prepares for the summer. As to what kind of team the SteepleCats will be, Cates said he won’t really know that until he’s seen them on the field.
Expect the SteepleCats to be aggressive offensively, taking the extra base when they can.
"I believe in hitting fastballs early and not falling behind in counts," the first-year manager said. "We’re going to take the extra base.
"We’re going to be very sound baserunning-wise. If a pitch is in the dirt, I’m going to expect our guys to be on second base or third base."
Cates said that one thing fans will notice is that he’s going to get his team to play "the right way.
"I’m a firm believer that defense and pitching wins baseball games," he said. "I pride myself as a player growing up always on defense and I was a guy who would rather make a game-saving play than a game-winning hit."
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