05/02/2016 10:35 AM
Keith Tate, 49, enjoying his time on the field at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. (Photo courtesy of Keith Tate.)
By MATT FULKS
Another day in the sun. That’s all anyone who’s ever played this game really wants: another day in the sun. Keith Tate is no exception.
So Tate decided to do something about it. After working out throughout the winter and making sure he was physically ready, Tate participated in the open tryout for the T-Bones on a perfect late-April Saturday afternoon.
If one doesn’t know Keith Tate, the fact that he tried out won’t seem like a big deal. After all, on average, 50-100 young hopefuls will come each spring to the open tryout at CommunityAmerica Ballpark with visions of wearing a T-Bones’ oxblood and white home jersey, and then, who knows, possibly ending up with an affiliated team.
That’s not Tate. He didn’t have any lofty expectations. And to call him a “young hopeful” might not be the best description. See, Keith Tate, an area manager for Coca-Cola, will turn 50 years old in July.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a couple years, and I finally told my boys last year that I’d try out when I turn 50,” Tate said. “So I worked out during the winter and got ready for this. I didn’t want it to be a joke for the guys who were there for a very serious reason of making the club and living a dream, but I thought it’d be fun to get out there again.”
Tate isn’t exactly William Hung of American Idol fame. It’s more like a bucket list item for a guy who reached his baseball ceiling in college. Tate started his collegiate career in the mid-1980s at Coffeyville Community College. As a leadoff hitter, Tate led his Coffeyville club in batting average and home runs. Then, after major schools -- Kansas and Nebraska -- as well as smaller schools, such as Emporia State and Central Missouri, showed an interest in him, Tate followed a good friend to Kansas State, where he walked on for legendary Wildcat coach Mike Clark.
“I wasn’t very good,” said Tate, who gets his baseball fix these days by coaching his two sons’ teams. “I was a good junior college player at Coffeyville, but I didn’t play much at K-State and I wasn’t going to be good enough to play professionally.”
That didn’t stop Tate, who takes his family to several T-Bones games each season, from enjoying the experience of trying out.
“I had an absolute blast, but I was sore for a couple of days,” Tate said, laughing. “The number of ground balls that I took and the whole two hours of running and sprinting, I was surprised with how I felt. My shoulders hurt, my back hurt and my knees hurt, but it was all worth it. I had so much fun.”
Tate wasn’t given any preferential treatment because of his age. He did everything the “kids” did on the field at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. One highlight for him, though, came toward the end of the tryout, when he was selected to take live batting practice on the field against a pitcher who was trying out. The young pitcher, Tate said, threw him a cutter, which is best described as a cross between a fastball and a slider.
After the catcher told Tate the pitch was a cutter, Tate quipped, “Back when I played, pitchers didn’t have cutters.” That got a great reaction from the youngsters standing around the cage. After a few more pitches, he took his last swing of the day: a base hit up the middle.
“I didn’t hit it very hard,” Tate said, “but it felt good to end on that.”
Now, when the 2017 tryouts roll around, what will Tate say to anyone who asks him about the experience and whether they should try out?
“I would tell them to do it in a heartbeat,” he said. “I’ve already told all my buddies about the experience. Some of my friends said they wouldn’t do it because they wouldn’t want to be embarrassed, but I wasn’t afraid of that. I had a blast being around the younger kids and seeing their enthusiasm for the game. That passion is what I remember when I was their age.”