Profile of Travel Director Chris Bates in TAP into Scotch-Plains-Fanwood (TAP into SPF)
Q&A with SPFBL Travel Director Chris Bates
Monday, November 24, 2014
SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ - Chris Bates took over as travel director for the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Baseball League (SPFBL) about a year ago. Since that time, the travel program has changed and grown. He sat down with TAP into SPF to discuss changes he has implemented and plans for the program in 2015 and beyond.
1. Why did you take the position of SPFBL travel director?
I wanted to help make an impact on our community in a positive way. Youth sports showed me so much growing up. A quick example: how to deal with winning/losing and the importance of each. You can’t always win in the game of life and sports helps teach you how to rebound when times are tough or don’t go your way.
2. Looking back at your first year, enumerate the successes of the program.
Most importantly, we had over 160 kids playing travel baseball throughout the summer in a competitive environment. We were able to enlist some new independent managers with a connection to the SPF community. These paid managers and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to coaching youth ballplayers. The feedback on the independent travel manager program has been fabulous. Right now, we have it for the summer teams 10U and older.
We also brought in two new independent head coaches for the Middle School baseball program and prepped a graduating class of eighth-graders for their transition into their freshman year in high school. One of our Middle School coaches was fortunate enough to secure the SPFHS freshman coaching position.
Lastly, while we will never chase trophies, we did have two teams win their championships and another team make their league finals in 2014. We were able to also field five travel teams in the fall season – more than double from the previous year.
3. What are some areas you’d like to improve?
We are flexible and will always look to improve our program. There are several takeaways from my first year at the helm. Just one example would be the 7U program in 2015 will have a Spring season dedicated to practicing/developing. This will prepare them for their summer season. As we know squeezing consistent practices into the summer season with the games/tournaments and Mother Nature can be challenging.
4. What were the biggest challenges? Is there anything you would have done differently during your first year?
There will always be detractors; that comes with the territory. The biggest challenge comes in assuring people that every decision we have made has been for the benefit of the program as a whole. I am always open to feedback and understand we are all human and make mistakes -- and we also have opportunities to correct them. Looking back, if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have been more proactive on communication in the early stages of the transition. Lesson learned.
5. You have instituted a number of changes in the travel program. What was the rationale for those changes?
We have instituted changes -- including a switch to age-based, rather than grade-based travel team selection -- to help position our program to successfully develop better baseball players. If you look at nearby towns that have successful high school programs, they also have an excellent feeder program into the high school. Cranford, Westfield, Ridge, Bridgewater, and Milburn are just a few nearby towns with successful youth and high school programs. We aim to help do the same here. We have a strong history of a successful baseball. We need to continue to instill that community pride for our kids and families to be proud to wear the SPF on their hat and/or Raiders on their shirt.
I made it a point in Year 1 not to make too many changes. We instituted uniform changes at the 7U level and look to build on that. Additionally, we made it a policy to have independent managers at the older levels who some type of connection to the SPF community -- live, work, attended school here, etc. This was an important implementation in my opinion... and one that showed great results. We reviewed our program, looked for areas of opportunities, and came up with a list of items to execute. The major ones are the age/grade change, holding one tryout instead of two tryouts, implementation of winter training as a team (led by professional instructors), and planning for Cooperstown 12U trips.
6. Explain the new Cooperstown 12U program. Why wasn't it done before?
The 12U Cooperstown trip is an exciting one. During an athlete’s 12U season -- typically after their summer season is over -- the team will take a one week trip to Cooperstown, N.Y., and play teams from all over the country. Each team is guaranteed six games, and it is just an awesome way to commemorate the youngsters last time on the 50/70 diamond (before advancing to the full 60/90 field). We will soon be announcing the fundraising vessel for this program to help the families offset some of the cost. There is still more exciting stuff to come and needless to say the sky is the limit for this program with the help of our community.
7. What are your long-term goals for the SPFBL Travel program?
Firstly, the goal of the SPF Travel baseball program is to provide an outlet for kids to have fun while playing in competitive baseball environment. Secondly, we want kids in our league to develop as baseball players and as individuals. There are so many life lessons to be learned playing our National Pastime. Lastly, it is important for us to help our high school as a feeder program. Team continuity and familiarity with each other as a player is priceless. This can be lost when we have kids in an age group playing spread-out amongst 3-4 various teams in and outside of the SPF Program.
8. What is the time commitment involved for you in running the Travel program?
Maybe I should let my wife answer this one! Seriously, it is an extremely time-consuming position with really no off season. However, every second spent volunteering my time is worth it when we see kids around town wearing their SPF hat with pride.
9. Did you play baseball in HS or college?
Yes, both. Baseball has allowed me to see the world, make lifelong friends and learn the importance of what hard work can do for you. After my collegiate years were over I was fortunate enough to work over seven seasons in the New York Yankees farm system learning the business side of the sport.
10. What else do you want people to know?
I am always willing to speak to anyone with any ideas/comments, etc. They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org