By Adam Biggers
Kevin Bates has plenty of reasons to brag about his three-plus-year varsity career at Linden. Ever since he was promoted from JV, the star shortstop (by trade) has done nothing but make plays with his bat, glove and arm.
Because of athletes such as Bates, the Eagles have evolved into a Flint-area power under sixth-year coach Steve Buerkel. The term "Flint-area power" may need an adjustment, though. This past season, the Eagles made an outstanding run through the Division 2 state tournament, finishing as runners-up behind Holland Christian -- the longest postseason stretch in Linden baseball history.
Buerkel says that Bates has left as one of Linden's most decorated players, something that gives "tingles" to Bates -- a humble guy who was just happy to be a part of something so spectacular.
"It was pretty awesome, my senior year, and being able to make that kind of run -- because you can't really go any farther other than winning the championship," said Bates, who'll continue his career at Cleary University. "So I really enjoyed it. I didn't really expect it coming into this season, but we knew how to win at the end of the year and that's what got us there."
Over the years, Bates has developed a clutch gene -- one which helped during the state tournament, and one that has provided a great deal of personal confidence. He's not afraid to attempt the game-changing plays. If not for his quick glove, the Eagles could have been put out by Frankenmuth during regional play.
Bates stopped that from happening.
"It was in the top of the seventh or the eight, so it was towards the end of the game; it somewhat saved the game, because there was a runner on third," said Bates, who helped Linden to a tight 2-1 victory at the Essexville-Garber host site. "It was a ground-ball up the middle, and I got to it and the ball kind of rolled up my glove and above my head..."
Instincts then took over for Bates.
"...And then I just snatched the ball out of the air and whipped it to first.. and barely got the guy by a step," he said, recalling every motion of his season-defining defensive effort. "There was two outs, so the runner on third was not able to score."
"Everybody was jumping out of their seats because they thought it was going to be an error-kind-of-thing," said Bates, who didn't have time to think, just react. "But personally, making the play, I was so confident in what I was doing. I wasn't nervous at all, which is really weird to say. I just felt like 100 percent that I was going to make the play either way."
Buerkel has often used the term "special, special player" to describe Bates, who helped the Eagles claw out four district championships, four Tom Cole Greater Flint tournament titles and a pair of Flint Metro League titles.
2016:123 AB, 37 H, 29 1B, 7 2B, 1 3B, 14 RBI, 20 R, 18 BB, AVG .301, OB% .411
Other highlights: No-hitter vs. Flint Carman-Ainsworth in 2014 (sophomore)... two wins on the hill for the Eagles in 2016... versatile player who caught, pitched and played shortstop/3B during his career