Gates Unlocks the Key to Success
By Josh White
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — JP Gates waited patiently for his opportunity.
He was called on to pitch a few times, but saw mixed results.
Then Hurricanes head coach Gino DiMare told the two-way player from Brooksville, Fla. to grab a bat. Miami trailed then top-ranked NC State 7-4 and was down to its final two outs.
The 6-foot-1, 222-pound utility man clubbed a pinch-hit, two-run home run over the right-center field fence, pulling Miami within one.
Though the Hurricanes ultimately came up short in that game last March, afterwards, DiMare addressed the team and commended Gates for seizing the opportunity.
“He said, ‘JP, you took advantage of the moment and you’re in the lineup tomorrow,'” Gates recalled. “The whole team started cheering and patting me on the back.”
Immediately, Gates called his mom after finding out he would make just his second start as a Hurricane.
“He’s always had to fight for everything,” Jennifer Gates said. “He wasn’t that kid that automatically was good. He was like the 11th or 12th player on teams. He wanted to prove to everybody that he was good enough. I used to tell him either you’re going to rise to the occasion or you’re going to falter.”
Gates has cemented himself in the starting nine, appearing in 41 straight games and is expected to start his 28th consecutive contest 6 p.m. Wednesday against Kent State at Mark Light Field.
He led the Hurricanes in hitting in 2019 with a .340 batting average, racking up four home runs and 31 RBI and proved to be an integral part to Miami’s most successful season in three years.
“When I was just sitting on the bench and not playing, I felt like I wasn’t helping the team at all,” Gates said. “When I got that chance again, when they put me in the lineup, I saw it as an opportunity to show that I can contribute in other ways than just pitching.”
Despite, helping Miami finish with its best season since 2016, Gates was not satisfied. He felt that he let his teammates down with his performance on the mound and could’ve served a bigger role in the back end of the Canes’ bullpen.
So he focused this summer on improving his pitching. The southpaw played for the Wareham Gatemen in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League under the guidance of former UM assistant coach Jerry Weinstein, who worked alongside Hurricanes legend Ron Fraser.
The sophomore honed his mechanics on the mound and his mental approach. He spent hours with Gatemen pitching coach Jim Lawler in bullpen sessions, picking the brain of the 30-year college baseball veteran.
“My pitching coach said, ‘When the ball leaves your hand, it’s out of your control. Stop worrying about a guy hitting a home run. It’s baseball. It’s going to happen. Make the best pitch you can and do the best you can in that moment,'” Gates said. “That’s what got me to realize to focus on just throwing strikes.”
Gates regrouped and found his form back on the bump. He made seven starts for Wareham, notching a 2.86 ERA. After sometimes struggling with his command in the spring, Gates recorded 20 strikeouts with just four walks in 22 innings pitched.
And the change for him was simple.
“It helped me that he was a two-way guy. Basically, all we did was get him in his hitting stance, which keeps his back knee loaded and all of a sudden he quit rushing,” Lawler said, the interim pitching coach at Pepperdine. “That’s what the summer league is for, try to help a guy get across the hurdle and get to the next step.”
Spending time across the country from his family for the first time in his life was another adjustment he had to make. But a familiar face was able to help Gates on and off the diamond.
Weinstein and Lawler paired Gates with longtime friend and Hurricanes catcher Adrian Del Castillo to help ease the process.
“He has really evolved as a baseball player. As a pitcher, he has gotten a lot better since freshman year,” Del Castillo said, who is one of Miami’s two captains. “If he’s ever struggling, I’ll go up to him and I’ll say like a little joke, make him relax. And then he’ll start throwing strikes and start focusing more. Me and him have that bond. I know what to do to get him back to where he needs to be.”
When Gates returned to Coral Gables, his confidence came back, too.
He felt that his work in the Cape League put everything back into perspective and reminded him of the pitcher that dominated in high school, posting a 1.05 ERA over 80 career innings and even threw a perfect game, striking out every batter he faced.
Gates showed the Hurricanes coaching staff his improvement throughout fall and spring practices and intrasquad scrimmages, regaining their trust to pitch in high-pressure situations.
The left-handed hurler’s first opportunity of the year came on Opening Night against Rutgers with the game on the line. With the tying run on first and the go-ahead tally at the plate, Gates fanned Scarlet Knights’ outfielder Richie Schiekofer.
On Sunday, Gates displayed his sweet stroke at the dish, blasting his fifth career home run. He hit .400 against Rutgers, helping the Hurricanes sweep the Scarlet Knights for the second straight season and move up to No. 1 in the D1 Baseball rankings.
With Kent State and No. 2 Florida on the horizon, Gates is looking for redemption against the Gators after leaving Gainesville with a sour taste in his mouth.
“That Florida series, it got to my confidence,” Gates admitted. “Especially, not playing in front of that many people before. It made me mature as a person, learning from that experience.”