Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 2, 2012

Yates signs with Cobras

TAZEWELL, Va. — Gavan Yates was in the right place at the right time, doing the right things, when Virginia Intermont baseball coach Jeremy Christian showed up at Lou Peery Field in Tazewell to scout out some talent.

On Monday, the new Tazewell High graduate signed a letter of intent to play catcher for the Bristol, Va., college. He impressed scouts with his defensive ability behind the plate, but his offense heated up at a good time, late in the 2012 campaign.

“By the end of the season I was really hitting the ball,” he said on Monday. “They saw the right games, I guess.”

Christian said, “We knew we were looking at bringing in a catcher. The more we saw from our background checks, the more interested we became.”

“It’s odd,” he said of the process that ended with Yates’ signing. “It’s not the traditional path. ... We saw him very late. It was a rather quick process. It normally would play out over eight or nine or 10 months, but in this case it was a matter of weeks.”

“Defense was a big thing,” the coach continued. “He’s a tremendous catch-and-throw guy.” But there was more to Yates.

“You don’t see too many left-handed-batting catchers,” Christian said. “He can run well. He makes contact, he’s a good ball striker (and) able to handle a bat. He really fits what we’re trying to do, very well.”

He noted that Yates graduated eighth in his senior class this spring. “He’s a super-intelligent kid,” Christian said. “We want kids that are the total package, who can excel in all aspects of life. ... Gavan is it.”

“At his position, catcher, he’s got to have that intelligence. He’s got to be able to call the game, manage the game, lead the team on the field.”

Tazewell baseball head coach Lou Peery said, “You can’t beat a worker, not only on the ball field but in life. ... He just continues to work and to strive for perfection.”

“Gavan caught here for three years,” Peery said. “He was [thrown] right in the fire and he had a lot to learn. He had a lot of growing pains. But he developed himself into a real fine catcher. The last two years he’s been a proven product behind the plate.”

“I watched him as he handled adversity. It’s a proven fact, why people make it to the next level is determination. [Gavan] set his goals early.”

Yates said, “Coach Peery and all the other coaches, they work our butts off. ... They got us prepared in the big parts of the game. Colleges sort of fine-tune us.”

He said his most memorable baseball moment came when he hit a grand slam home run against Pulaski County that turned a 6-3 deficit into a 7-6 Tazewell lead. The homer came one pitch after he had hit another long ball that went foul.

Another factor working for Yates is that he has caught for two high-school pitchers who were chosen in the June 5 major league baseball draft.

He was in the same Tazewell graduating class as Zac Wasilewski, who is now pitching in the Gulf Coast League for the Toronto organization.

Yates also was paired up with Dylan Sons of Halifax, Va., when they played summer league ball with the Blasters, headquartered in Carroll County, Va. Sons, chosen by the Kansas City Royals, and Yates even share the same birthday.

Christian said, “It’s not often you see high school catchers who have consistently handled pro-level arms.”

Peery said about the Wasilewski-Yates battery, “It’s always special when you get that combination of pitcher and catcher that you can rely on and depend on. ... It gives the team a little extra boost, that can make the difference in wins and losses.”

Yates will continue his college career with high school friend and teammate Ryan Hankins, who has also signed with the Cobras. Hankins worked out in Bristol a week before Yates.

Yates said the two helped each other “all the time” with classwork at Tazewell, and they’re “fishing and hunting and trapping buddies. To have a chance to keep playing ball with him will be fun.”

The two have worked out an agreement to be roommates in a house on property that Hankins’ parents have purchased in the Bristol area.

To have two former Tazewell teammates on the Virginia Intermont roster should be “a huge advantage,” Christian said. “First, they come from a tradition-rich program. They know how to win. Together, they look to bring those winning ways into our program as well.”

“And they’ll continue that bond as friends and teammates. From a comfort standpoint ... that’ll ease the transition.”

Peery said “at least five or six” Tazewell graduates have played baseball for the Cobras. “We’ve had kids go down there and do well,” he said, “and not for just one year. They stay, and go through the program.”

Yates said he liked “the small family atmosphere” he observed at Virginia Intermont. “The professors know who you are.”

He said the college is close to several lakes that he and his father Lonnie plan to “fish a lot.”

Lonnie Yates said, “I’m tickled to death to have him close to home. I think he’s going to fit in really well.”

The new recruit’s father pitched at Bluefield College from 1982-85. “I love the game, just like Gavan,” he said. He also noted, “Sports in general are just so much more intense than they were then.”

He said the Virginia Intermont coaches are “really intense” and expect the students to commit to baseball as a 12-month proposition.

“It looks like what Gavan would really enjoy,” Lonnie Yates said. “He’s always worked hard with Coach Peery, staying after practice, coming in on Saturday and Sunday.”

From the perspective of a former college athlete, he said he has told his son, “It’s a lot of work to keep your grades right, and study, and do what you’ve got to do in baseball. But it’s what he wants to do, and he loves it. So we support him 100 percent.”

Gavan’s mother Myra Yates said, “It’s what makes him happy. I think every parent just wants happiness for their children.”

“Academically, he’s worked hard to keep his grades up,” she said.

Other unconnected recent events have helped her son with his dream to play college baseball, she said. In addition to Virginia Intermont’s belated interest, they included the Hankins family moving to Bristol, and even the transfer of their pastor, the Rev. Jeff Moncier, to a church “no more than 15 minutes” from the VI campus.

“All these things that were improbable,” she said. “It’s all falling into place, unexpectedly.”

Gavan Yates is happy about it, as well.

“I’ll have a pile of people down there, ready to go,” he said.

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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