Stepping into NCAA Division 1 baseball straight out of high school is a considerable step for any player, let alone one living 3,800 kilometres from home.
But so far, so good for Kelowna’s Dawson Yates who is earning positive reviews in his freshman season with the Texas A&M University (Corpus Christi) Islanders.
In part-time duty this season as a designated hitter, Yates has nine hits and five RBIs in 29 at bats for a .310 batting average—the best on the Islanders’ squad.
A third baseman during his days with the Premier Baseball League’s Okanagan Athletics, the 18-year-old Kelowna product is behind two other players at the position on the depth chart and has yet to play in the infield at Texas A&M.
Still, Yates is happy to be getting an opportunity to swing the bat at the highest level of university baseball in the world.
“You try to make the best of every chance you get and just hope for the best,” said Yates, a graduate of KSS. “I’ve been getting a few hits and I feel like I’m swinging the bat pretty well. I just want to stay consistent, and focus on being a better hitter.”
During his time under coach Evan Bailey with the A’s in Kelowna, hitting was clearly Yates’ strength, as he batted .299, .368 and .345 over three seasons.
Islanders’ head coach Scott Malone said Yates has been a solid addition to the program, and is steadily making the transition to the NCAA level.
“He’s a great kid and he’s really enjoying being part of our program,” Malone said. “In the short term we look for him to continue to be a good left-handed hitter for us. We look for him to start some, come off the bench at other times. In the long term, we think he has a bright future. We’d like to see him get better defensively and see if he can play at third…if not then a move to first could be a possibility.
“All in all, we’re really happy with Dawson, he’s an enthusiastic kid, a hard worker and great to have around.”
In his first season in the Lone Star State, there have been more than a few eye openers for Yates, including both the quality of baseball played and the professional manner in which NCAA programs are run.
“Really, it’s almost like a business, very professional,” Yates said. “You have pre-game meals, everything you need on game day you’ve got, we have trainers who look after everything. It’s really taking baseball to the next level. The level of competition is so high, you have to work all the time to keep up.”
Living in the south of Texas for the first time has, not surprisingly, come with its share of cultural adjustments.
The food, for one, has taken some getting used to for the 6-foot, 210-pound Yates.
“It’s heavy, kind of bland, and there’s a lot of it,” Yates said. “The first semester I really didn’t know what I was doing and I gained about 10 to 15 pounds. Chicken fried chicken, chicken fried steak…you can pile it on pretty fast. I’ve been watching it closer the last few months, cutting down on my carbs and getting back to normal.”
As one of the few Canadians on the Corpus Christi campus of 13,000 students, Yates has also been subjected to some good-natured ribbing from his American teammates and friends—mainly due to his accent.
“I don’t think I say ‘eh too much, but when I do say it, I can be guaranteed 10 guys will be all over me,” Yates said with a laugh. “They tell me I say ‘a boot’ instead of about, too. It’s kind of funny, but you just get used to it after a while. People are mostly pretty nice here.”
As the school nickname would suggest, the Corpus Christi campus is located on an island just off the Gulf of Mexico. The decision to move to the far south of the U.S. to play baseball has, in many respects, been a positive experience for Yates.
“It’s awesome living here, we’re right on (Corpus Christi) bay, it’s nice and warm the winter and there’s a beach about 25 minutes away that we get to about once a week,” he said. “To be able to go to school down here and play baseball has been great. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Yates is enrolled in the business program at Texas A&M Corpus Christi and is maintaining close to an 80 per cent average.
Yates will return home to Kelowna June 1, then will join his hometown Kelowna Falcons for the 2014 West Coast League season.