ADNA — Levi Gates is watching his brother practice shooting his bow at a target in Adna Tuesday. But for Gates, an avid firearm elk hunter, chasing down big game in the Willapa Hills comes secondary to his favorite sport: baseball.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior at Adna High School gets to continue doing what he loves, even with the likelihood that his final high school baseball season this spring will be canceled.
Gates signed his National Letter of Intent to play ball for Bellevue College three weeks ago, securing his place on the team during a time when roster spots are few and far between. The Northwest Athletic Conference announced in early November that athletes will not be charged a year of eligibility for the 2020-21 season, opening up the prospect of athletes staying an extra year, retaining their roster spot and leaving less for the soon-to-be high school graduates.
Gates is one of the lucky ones, getting noticed by Bellevue coach Mark Yoshino while playing in a baseball tournament at the college his sophomore year in 2018. He ended up committing during a practice for his select baseball team, Diamond Sports Premier, in mid-November.
“It was pretty crazy,” Gates said. “It was surreal. It’s a big relief.”
Gates, who’s been playing select ball with Diamond Sports since he was a freshman, was one of the more fortunate athletes in the state this summer, playing 50 games with his select team that’s based out of Puyallup.
“I think we were one of the teams that got the most games in this summer,” Gates said. “I was thankful for it.”
He’s been playing baseball since he was 3 years old and it didn’t take him long to fall in love with the sport. It’s the only sport he plays and Adna coach Jon Rooklidge said Gates would play ball 24 hours a day, 356 days a year if he could.
“Oh, yeah, 366 if there were that many days,” Gates confirmed.
Gates spent his sophomore season making a mark for the Pirates as the starting shortstop and pitcher, helping the Pirates advance to the opening round of state, falling 8-7 to Central 2B League rival Rainier. Rooklidge said Gates’ talents will translate well in the college ranks
“He would be a player that is versatile enough to play either of those in college,” Rooklidge said. “He’s got a strong, live arm. Good breaking stuff on the mound.”
He may be even better at shortstop, where Rooklidge called him a slick defender that is skilled enough to play short, second or third. He could even be placed in the outfield if Bellevue needed him to. He’s also a proficient hitter who routinely gets hard contact on pitches. Rooklidge calls him a doubles guy. But it’s Gates’ dedication to the game and craft that sets him apart from other players, Rooklidge said.
“Levi just wants to play baseball nonstop,” Rooklidge said. “I think that literally there’s no place he’d rather be than on a baseball field. I think that preoccupies his thoughts every day of the year. He just loves to play.”
The Pirates haven’t practiced together as a team since March, before the 2019-20 season was canceled before it ever began due to the pandemic. Gates doesn’t see this season happening in spring 2021 either, which would erase the final two years of his prep career.
“It sucks,” Gates said. “I really wish I could have been playing for the school because I like playing with all my buddies from school. I’m really hoping we get a season this year but it’s doubtful.”
Luckily, Gates will be joining a Bellevue Bulldogs team that is often one of the best in the Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC). The 2018-19 season was the last full season NWAC teams played as the 2020 spring season was canceled due to the pandemic.
The Bulldogs finished third in the North Region at 32-16 overall and 17-7 in league play. The Bulldogs led the NWAC in home runs and finished No. 2 in the RPI rankings. Plus, every sophomore earned a scholarship to play at a four-year university, which is a promising sign for Gates in the future.
The last time Gates played a competitive game was in mid-August, when his select season ended. Since then, he’s been lifting, working out and hunting rifle season for elk. For now, he’s trying to keep his mind off trying to figure out if he’ll play with the Pirates or not this spring. He’d rather look ahead and prepare for what the future holds for him at the next level.
“I love everything about the game,” Gates said. “It’s the process that keeps me going. I like to work hard for it and see the results come out from the hard work.”