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Former Eagle works to reach Baltimore

After a good spring training, former Brandon star Gary Cates now plays for Delmarva, a Class A team.

By NICK CARLSON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 4, 2001


When Gary Cates graduated from Brandon High, he had a dream.

He wanted to play baseball, and he wanted to do it at the highest level. College was a place he could go later.

"It's always been in my plans since I was little to play major league baseball," said Cates, an infielder for the Delmarva Shorebirds, a Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles located in Salisbury, Md.

On June 3, 1999, Cates, a first team all-state selection, took the first step of that dream coming true when Baltimore drafted him in the 39th round of the draft. He signed his first professional contract one week later.

"It was an opportunity, and there is always the risk of getting hurt in college ball and never having the chance to make it to the big leagues," Cates said.

Cates, who turned 20 Tuesday, used that opportunity to get his professional career off to a fast start.

Cates reported to Baltimore's Gulf Coast League team. There, he didn't commit an error in his first 15 games, put together an eight-game hitting streak, stole 11 bases in 13 attempts and hit his first home run in the last game of the season.

Those numbers drew some attention, but the following spring really opened the eyes of those in the Orioles organization. The 5-foot-7, 160-pound Cates finished the minor league spring training hitting over .700 and was sent to Delmarva of the South Atlantic League, a low Class A league.

Last year, he hit .251, playing all four infield positions and three games in the outfield. He had streaks of eight consecutive games with an RBI and six consecutive games with a hit. He hit .301 in 26 games during August. And he added another home run to his career total.

Those numbers earned him a spot with the Frederick (Md.) Keys, an advanced Class A team in the Carolina League, to start the season.

But organizational moves shuffled him back to Delmarva after 28 games.

"I was doing well," Cates said. "But I got sent down to Delmarva because a guy from Triple A got bumped down. So a guy from Double A got bumped, and then I got bumped,"

In making his play to get back with Frederick, Cates was hitting .264 with five doubles and 10 RBI through Monday's game. What he doesn't have in home run power, he makes up for in many other ways.

Shorebirds manager Joe Ferguson said the recent demotion is not something Cates should dwell on.

"Remember, he's still a very young player even for this league," Ferguson said.

"Gary is a different type of player. He's not going to hit home runs for you. He's too small. But he is a high-energy kid that does a lot of things. He plays beyond his ability."

Playing beyond his ability is something Cates knows he must continue to do if he is to advance through the Orioles' system.

"I'm thinking it's looking pretty good. Maybe by the time the year is out, I'll get back up there," Cates said.

"I just need to keep going out and being consistent offensively."

Whether he gets there or not, Cates said he is grateful for the chance to pursue his dream.

"I got the shot. Now I'm going to do the best I can do," Cates said.

"If I ever make it, great. If I don't ever make it, then I don't. But as long as I'm healthy and have the chance, I'm going to try as long as I can."

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