Sanford Mainers pitcher Gavin Bates delivers during a road game against the Vermont Mountaineers. Photo courtesy of Frisby Photography

Growing up Gavin Bates got really good at firmly getting the heel of his hockey stick onto a rubber biscuit during the cold of winter. But nowadays Bates’ place is firmly atop a pitching mound, where he’s getting really good at toeing the rubber during the spring and now the summer.

An Auburn native and former St. Dominic Academy hockey and baseball standout, Bates is now playing summer baseball for the Sanford Mainers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League after completing his freshman season for Division-I University of Dayton.

“I was just excited,” Bates said. “I get to go back home, play in Maine. There’s a lot of good people in (the Mainers) program, so I was excited I’d get to come home and have some friends and family come watch me and root me on.”

The Mainers, in turn, were “excited to have him,” according to first-year manager Cejay Suarez.

“(Dayton head coach) Jayson King is a really good friend of me and (Mainers general manager) Aaron Izaryk’s, and he recommended him very highly,” Suarez said. “We kind of knew about him, being in the state of Maine, and me and Aaron both at Bridgton Academy. … So we knew about him pretty well.”

Bates said King asked him where he wanted to play this summer to continue working on his pitching, and Bates said he wanted to be in New England. He ended up getting as close to Auburn as he could, with Sanford’s Goodall Park only about 90 minutes away.

His friends and family didn’t get to see him pitch much during his first season at Dayton, but that was because Bates only appeared in five games. He did have a cheering section at a few of those.

“I didn’t get a lot of innings, which was definitely a change for me coming out of two small high schools (St. Dom’s and Kents Hill School), but I learned a lot from our upperclassmen,” Bates said.

“It was a big change, just from high school, playing Division I college baseball,” he added.

Bates hasn’t had many opportunities yet with the Mainers, either, appearing in just three games. That’s been due to both and influx of pitchers on the roster and from some early-season arm soreness, according to Suarez, who said he expects Bates to get plenty of innings as the summer wears on.

Bates has taken his lack of opportunities so far in stride.

“I want to pitch, I love to pitch, but we have a lot of pitchers and the Mainers know what they’re doing. Baseball is a long game and it’s a long season, so you just have to be patient, you can’t overlook anything,” Bates said. “When I’m not pitching, getting ready to practice and before the games, after the games, doing what I can on our off days and just getting ready for my next appearance.”

And like at Dayton, Bates has made sure to draw upon the wisdom from his elder teammates. At Dayton, that was pitchers Ben Hughes and Hunter Wolfe. With the Mainers, it’s been everyone from York native and Maryland pitcher Trevor Labonte (about how he holds his curveball), to Brewer native and Maine pitcher Matthew Pushard (two-seam fastball), to catchers Orlando Adams and Ryan Turenne.

“Gavin is a very curious kid,” Suarez said. “He really wants to make it to the next level. He loves to have fun, but he really wants to get better. He’s communicated with me a bunch of times about doing some extra work, and me working with him on the mound and what-not. So he’s full-blown baseball, and there’s nothing better than when you have a kid like that in the summer.”

Not too long ago Bates was known as the next-level hockey prospect, which is a big reason he transferred from St. Dom’s to Kents Hill after his sophomore year. In fact, his high-school pitching career got off to an inauspicious start when he walked 12 batters in a freshman start against Dirigo.

Bates admitted that the start “didn’t go well, but after that I built on top of that.”

Part of his baseball career construction included playing for the AAU Maine Lightning team, “which was huge,” according to Bates. At Kents Hill, Bates said head coach Mike Hannon told him to “do whatever feels comfortable” and not worry about having the perfect grip.

But Bates has been working on his pitch location ever since that first St. Dom’s start. He admitted that the walks problem had a lot to do with his lack of innings at Dayton. Walks hurt him in his most recent appearance with the Mainers, walking three batters in his one inning of work while allowing three runs (one earned). In his two previous appearances, he walked one in his debut before giving up a home run, then pitched two scoreless innings with just one hit and no walks his second time out.

He already has seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings with the Mainers.

“He’s an electric arm, is what I would call him on the mound. He has kind of next-level stuff, where he rings his fastball in the low-90s,” Suarez said. “And he’s young, he’s only 18, 19 years old, so there’s more room in the tank for him, and he’s only going to get better.”

Despite a bit of a rough outing his last time out, Suarez said he thinks Bates is starting to settle in and feel like he belongs in the NECBL. And that’s a good sign.

“Once guys get comfortable on the mound or at the plate then kind of the rest is history, they usually have pretty good summers, and I think Gavin’s going to have a good rest of his summer,” Suarez said.

Sanford Mainers pitcher Gavin Bates Photo courtesy of Frisby Photography