By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - James Coates had dreamed of becoming a Nittany Lion his entire life.
"I grew up a Penn State fan," said Coates. "Everything I've known my entire life has been Penn State, so I've always dreamt of being a Penn State student-athlete."
Now, as a freshman in Happy Valley, Coates has secured a starting spot in left field for the baseball team after a standout performance against East Tennessee State University last weekend.
When he was young, the Girard, Ohio, native wasn't sure which sport would be his calling as a Nittany Lion. Coates played football and baseball at John F. Kennedy high school, but gave up football his senior year after he decided baseball was the path he wanted to take.
The moment Coates was contacted about joining the baseball team at Penn State, he affirmed without a second thought. Coates was born and raised cheering for the Nittany Lions. His father, Jim Coates, was a former punt/kick returner and wide receiver for Penn State in the mid-1980s.
Coates worked tirelessly throughout the offseason, preparing for the day when he would take the field and represent the Blue and White. In the season opening series against East Tennessee State, Coates was the only freshman in the starting lineup, starting all three games.
The freshman phenom stood out immediately, going 5-for-10 with two RBIs, two stolen bases and two runs scored in the three game series. Having inherited the speed from his father, Coates showed that he would be a weapon both on offense and in the outfield.
"He was acting like he's been there and done it, acting like an upperclassman," said head coach Robbie Wine. "Every at bat was a good at bat, his base running was good and everything was under control. It was very impressive."
The transition to college baseball can be difficult as players face a bigger stage with more distractions. The game itself speeds up and fundamentals become crucial. That moment when a freshman steps onto the field for the first time in a game situation can be nerve-wracking.
Coach Wine understands that experience and knows how to coach his players to be ready for it.
"Everyone gets nervous," said Wine. "All you can do is acknowledge your nerves, take a deep breath, relax and get ready."
Naturally, Coates was nervous when his moment arrived, but he took coach Wine's advice to heart, settled in, and played the game he's lived and breathed for years.
"It's your first college game, first college experience, so it's exciting and it's a lot to take in and you get nervous," said Coates. "I learned to trust what I've learned this offseason: just play my game and be myself."
The coaches at Penn State have been instrumental in preparing Coates for game day. They honed his fundamentals so that when game time arrived, every play would be automatic and errors would be virtually nonexistent.
"[The coaches] really covered aspects of the game that I've never been taught before," said Coates. "They've made me a better baseball player in many aspects."
Coates joins a team that has embraced him into their culture. The Nittany Lions have developed a staunch work ethic, while allowing themselves the opportunity to enjoy the game of baseball. The atmosphere has allowed Coates and the rest of the freshmen class to relax and play their game knowing that their teammates will support them through the best days and the worst.
"Right from the start I knew that this team was a great group of guys," said Coates. "There is a great balance on this team between having fun, being relaxed, yet being serious and winning games."
The fit was right from the very beginning. Coates knew he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and play for Penn State and he has already established himself as a Nittany Lion at heart and is on his way to doing it on the diamond.
"I knew that I would get a better education and be at a better program with a great group of guys, great coaches and great facilities," said Coates. "It's always been my dream and so far it's been a dream come true. I love everything about it."