TIGERVILLE, SC—Chris Tate has dreamed of playing professional baseball since he first picked up a bat and a ball as a child. Now he will get his chance. Tate has signed a one-year contract with the Evansville Otters of the Frontier League.
The Frontier League is one the premier independent baseball leagues in the United States. The league drew 1.3 million fans to its ballparks in 2006 and expanded to 12 teams in 2007. Evansville, the 2006 Frontier League Champions, have seen 40 of their players ink contracts with at Major League club.
Tate’s road to professional baseball was not easy, though. After completing his senior season at North Greenville last May, Tate hit the road during the summer. He and a friend traveled from Charlotte, NC to Utica, NY trying out for Major League and Independent league organizations. Tate tried out for the Orioles, Reds, and Braves organizations. At every stop he either received no word or a We’ll get back with you. But they never did.
Then in September, while finishing up degree work at North Greenville and working as a student-assistant coach with the Crusader program, he received a letter inviting him to a tryout in Clearwater, FL with the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Tate jumped at the chance to showcase his skills in front of Major League scouts. Seventy players, many of them former professional players at one level or another, were invited to the tryout. Tate, fresh out of NCAA Division II North Greenville, was one of seven players that were pulled aside after the two-day tryout. Team officials told him that they were impressed with him and would like the opportunity to see him play more. So the Phillies, who have a strong relationship with the Otters, recommended Tate to the Frontier League team, and the club signed him to a one-year contract.
Tate, who played centerfield at North Greenville, is not sure exactly where the Otters will have him play, but knows it will be in the outfield. Tate batted .375 while driving in 29 runs and scoring 45 runs in his senior campaign at North Greenville. He stole 25 of 25 bases as a junior and led the team in hitting both seasons at North Greenville. Before arriving in Tigerville, Tate played two years at Gordon College in Georgia, where he graduated with an Associate’s degree in Mathematics.
Some people would be daunted by the impending challenges of becoming a professional athlete, but not Tate. “I’m just relieved right now, and excited about the opportunity,” says Tate. “It is fulfilling because it is something that you want for so long. Then you try and fail, try and fail, and try and fail. Then, God just puts this in your lap. It’s a great feeling.”
“I’m sure I may get a little more nervous as it gets closer to May, but right now I’m just thinking that it is God’s will so I am not too nervous. I’m going to work and prepare like I always have, and I’ll think things will work out well.”
Head coach Tim Nihart seems to think so, too. “One of the biggest things Chris has going for him, I think, is that he is teachable,” remarks Nihart. “Professional clubs are looking for guys who are willing to learn and get better, not guys who just settle, and Chris certainly brings that to the field. All last spring, he was asking questions on how to get better.”
Nihart also points to Tate’s athletic skills as a major positive for Tate. “Chris is a great athlete who takes care of his body,” says Nihart. “He swings from the left side of the plate, runs the bases well, and can cover a lot of ground in the outfield.”
Tate is the fifth Crusader to ink a professional contract under Nihart at North Greenville.
Tate is grateful to North Greenville for its role in preparing him for the future. He is aware that young eyes look up to professional athletes and counts his time as a Crusader as valuable in preparing him for that role. “North Greenville is the place where Christ makes the difference,” says Tate. “And if you care about your image at all, then, what better image is there to follow than that of Christ?”
“North Greenville has taught me a lot about how to live. I have gained many great experiences and a lot of doors have been opened to me since I came here. I have been to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip and had the opportunity to play summer ball in the Midwest. I don’t think I would have gotten those experiences had I not come to North Greenville.”
“Coach Nihart and Coach [Jon] Lane have done their job preparing me and have helped me out a lot. Now I look forward to going and playing ball.”