Monday, June 17, 2024

Senior pitcher continues to blossom

April 10, 2002
Senior pitcher Nick Bates throws a pitch during the 4th inning of Saturday's second of three games against Minnesota. The Spartans won 5-3.

With a renewed sense of confidence, senior Nick Bates has gone from a relatively unknown to the MSU baseball team’s Ace.

After going 4-4 in 2001, Bates is a perfect 7-0 to start the 2002 campaign. The right-hander now finds himself anchoring the Spartans’ pitching staff.

“My pitching coach (Joe Fletcher) has installed a bulk of confidence in me,” Bates said. “He’s probably the main contributor to my success.

“When he came in January, he said, ‘I don’t think you think you’re as good as you are - as good as I know you are.’ That really made me think and motivated me.”

The Spartans (19-6 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) are off to their best start in MSU manager Tom Mahan’s seven-year tenure. And Bates’ performance is largely responsible. He is four games away from breaking MSU’s single-season wins mark.

“I have no doubt he can play professional baseball,” Mahan said. “There has probably been 10 teams that have given questionnaires to fill out on Nick. Maybe even half of the Major League teams.”

A new-found attention is sharp contrast from last season, when Bates posted a 7.63 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 48.1 innings of work. This season, Bates has an ERA of 2.76 and 54 strikeouts in 45.2 innings of action.

“Scouts are calling me every day,” Fletcher said. “There are more and more guys with more and more interest. It seems like the more he throws, the more interest he gets.”

Mahan said Bates knows the scouts are always watching, but said it never rattles his nerves.

“Being the competitor he is, he knows the radar guns are back there,” Mahan said. “He sees (the scouts) back there and even though some guys don’t handle that very well, Nick has done a good job this year and he’s using it as motivation.”

Bates said his dream is to play professional baseball, and the scouts are a constant reminder of just how close he is.

“I just want to play professional baseball,” he said. “That’s always been my dream. I just want to be able to have the chance to play.”

The biggest change for Bates is his arsenal. Before this season he relied solely on his fastball and slider, with the occasional change-up. But when Fletcher suggested throwing a harder slider, Bates developed a cutter.

“His stuff is just electric,” Fletcher said. “When you see him dominate hitters out there, overpowering hitters, it pumps up the rest of the guys. They are keeping their eyes on him, they’re watching him, they’re talking to him. I think he is a big inspiration.”

Bates’ ability to grasp hold of the senior leadership role has had a noticeable effect on the rest of the staff, Mahan said. Sophomore right-hander Bryan Gale (3-2) has pitched well in all but one outing this year and right-hander Tim Day (5-1) has blossomed into a freshman phenom. Mahan said much of their progression has come from watching Bates.

“Nick’s gone out and done exactly what we needed him to do - set the tone,” Mahan said. “He’s extremely confident every time he goes to the mound and he thinks he can beat any team he pitches against and so far this year, that has been the case.

“Tim has pitched extremely well as a freshman and I think Nick has a lot to do with that. Nick has led the way and the other pitchers have responded.”

As a senior, Bates said his biggest goal in college is to put a trophy in MSU’s baseball cabinet.

“I want to win a championship and leave my mark at MSU,” Bates said. “I think that’s what all the seniors want.”

Bates and the rest of the Spartans continue their quest for a championship against Grand Valley State (14-6, 6-2 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) at 3 p.m. today at Kobs Field.

He will be resting his arm for this weekend’s four-game series with Indiana (23-6, 6-2), but he’ll be giving MSU all his support.

“Like all the rest of the guys that aren’t playing, I’m going to be sitting on the bench cheering on our team,” he said. “We all want to win and see everyone else succeed.”


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