WISE — Lynchburg, Virginia native Brett Yates was in the midst of his senior baseball season at Brookville High School in 2014 and looking for a place to play collegiately. While Yates was in a transition in his life so was UVa-Wise as the school's athletic program was in the midst of transitioning from the NAIA to NCAA Division II. Five years later, the fit for Yates and the College was like a perfectly broken in baseball mitt as Yates put together one of the best careers in school history both on and off the field. However, at times the road to Yates' athletic success was not easy and for a moment appeared to be a story that would be left unwritten.
"There is a picture of me holding a whiffle ball bat when I was two years old so I've always loved the game," Yates remarked when asked about his earliest memories of baseball. "My dad has always had a love for baseball and I grew up with the game, I have two older sisters who aren't athletes and once my dad had a boy he was like I'm going to make this guy a ballplayer and that is where my love of the game began."
UVa-Wise is certainly glad Gary Yates passed his love of the game on to his son as the youngest Yates finished third in program history with 179 starts, fourth in games played with 189, seventh in hits with 179, eighth in doubles with 38, 11th in RBI with 103 and 15th in runs scored with 95.
The finality of Yates career ranks among the best to ever play for the Cavaliers but, his journey to reach the accolades is full of valleys and peaks.
Yates reached the varsity level at Brookville High School as a sophomore. That season, the Bees advanced all the way to the state finals and held a lead in the sixth inning before eventually falling short.
Undeterred, Yates spent the last two years of his prep career working with Head Coach Chris Glaize to be the best player he could be in an effort to play at the collegiate level. As a senior he hit .448 with 21 RBI while lining 13 doubles and four triples en route to first-team all-area acclaim.
"The first time I heard about UVa-Wise we were playing at Cave Spring High School and their starting pitcher (Steve Klaiber) had signed with UVa-Wise and I really didn't hear about the school again until coach (Erik) Lemley started recruiting me," said Yates. "He came and watched me play and we talked a few times and then I came on a visit. After the visit it was pretty quick; I knew I wanted to be somewhere for four years that had a good academic background and at a place where I bought into the philosophy and I saw myself fitting into coach (Hank) Banner's system."
In the spring of 2015, Yates started on Opening Day as a freshman going 2-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. It was the start of a superb freshman campaign for Yates as he hit .329 while lining 49 hits in his inaugural collegiate season. For his work, he earned All-MEC Honorable Mention acclaim becoming the first freshman of the NCAA Division II era of the program to receive all-conference status.
While Yates was off to a fast start, the team was not. UVa-Wise posted a 14-32 record and a 12-22 mark in 2015. In just its second year as a NCAA Division II member and still unable to qualify for postseason play, the Cavaliers were in a rebuilding process that would take years to reap the rewards.
In 2016, Yates moved to shortstop and struggled both defensively and offensively. In the field, he made 15 errors while seeing his batting average drop to .252 at the plate. As a team, UVa-Wise claimed just nine league wins after dropping its first six conference games.
Things got off to a fast start for Yates as a junior as he doubled, scored and stole a base as part of a 2-for-2 start to his season. Things then went horribly for Yates who had made the move to left field and was batting leadoff. On his third plate appearance of the day, he hit a ball up the first base line only to see the pitcher race towards the ball. To avoid a collision, Yates abruptly stopped and when he did his leg broke.
"When you break your leg, you can't do anything," said Yates. "Dana (Sibrel), our athletic trainer taught me how to walk again and you slowly get your strength back, it's a long process but my motivation was wanting to get back on the field and play again."
A gifted student, Yates graduated cum laude with a double major in software engineering and computer science while posting a 3.61 grade point average. His work in the classroom had positioned himself to graduate on time; despite this, Yates knew immediately when he broke his leg that he wanted to play all four years of his collegiate career.
"It didn't take me any time to think about it, I wanted to be here because I knew we were building something," Yates emphatically said. "Once I got through the rehab and knew I could play again, I was going to play as long as I could."
The extra year also allowed Yates to expand his knowledge in the classroom. Once breaking his leg, Yates became a double major by adding software engineering. At graduation, he was presented with the Software Engineering Award which is presented annually to the department's top graduating senior.
"I've grown a passion for software development, I knew nothing about computers coming into it but I've learned a lot and it's all due to the department here and the curriculum," Yates said when asked about his coursework. "Dr. (Jacob) Somervell has awesome lectures, he can apply lectures to anyone whether you are new to the field of study or experienced in the subject while Dr. (Robert) Hatch is very difficult but you really know the material when you leave his class, I credit those two professors a lot for my development."
While Yates was picking up extra course work and rehabbing to get back on the field it was his faith that allowed him to develop an increased role with the team.
"I try to glorify God in the way that I play and be a witness to my teammates," stated Yates. "My faith helps me look at the bigger picture, I don't get caught in the moment and it helps me realize that I can do things outside of baseball and know that God has a bigger purpose for me."
When injured, Yates began seeing the game in a different and his inability to play allowed allowed him to take a bigger leadership role with the team. Then a veteran on the club, he mentored younger players as UVa-Wise posted a four-win improvement in conference games by posting a 13-19 mark in 2017.
Once returning, Yates picked up where he left as he lined a hit in nine consecutive games as part of a junior campaign that saw him hit .304 with 10 doubles and 51 total hits. Playing all over the diamond, Yates posted a .958 fielding percentage as he made just eight errors while playing games at second base, shortstop and all three outfield positions.
While he was excelling, so was the team. The Cavs entered the final weekend of the season needing to win 3-of-4 games against Concord University to make the school's first postseason appearance. After splitting the first two games of the series at Stallard Field in Wise, UVa-Wise upended Concord 6-2 in game three to force a decisive fourth game in the series.
With the game tied 6-6 in extra innings, Yates stepped to the plate with a chance to give his squad the lead. The then junior ripped a base hit up the middle allowing teammate Jordon Turner to scamper home giving the Cavs a 7-6 lead.
The lead would be short lived as Concord scored a pair of unearned runs in the home half of the inning to end UVa-Wise's season.
While the season ended in disappointment, Yates and his teammates posted a 16-16 league record, a seven win improvement from just two seasons ago. The team also remained mostly in tact as it entered 2019 with the goal of playing postseason baseball.
Things began poorly for UVa-Wise this spring as the team started 0-8 with four of the losses coming by one run. While the team was scuffling, so was Yates as he began the year just 2-for-28.
Yates and the team quickly turned around as Yates lined eight hits over a six game stretch that saw the Cavs go 6-0.
When league play began, the team was playing its best ball of the season as the club won 7-of-8 to open up the conference slate. Yates was also at his best in league play as he finished the season hitting .364 with 11 doubles, four homers and 28 RBI against MEC foes.
Overall, Yates started and played in the second most games in a single-season in school history with 52 as a senior. Playing all over the outfield, he picked up his second all-conference award as he was named All-Mountain East Conference Second-Team as he hit .305 with 15 doubles and a team-high 40 RBI. The 15 doubles and 40 RBI were a career-high for Yates as were the five homers he belted in his final collegiate campaign.
More importantly to Yates, the Cavaliers won 19 MEC games this spring en route to the programs first postseason appearance as a NCAA Division II member while claiming 26 total wins which was the most for the team since 2010.
In tournament play, UVa-Wise claimed a 19-14 win over Fairmont State University for the school's first postseason win in seven years before falling out of the event on day three. Over his team's three games, Yates went 6-for-14 at the plate with three RBI, two doubles and three runs scored.
Now that baseball is over, Yates has life mapped out fairly well. He's engaged to Hannah Houston and the couple is set to be married in July with Yates having already accepted a job in Raleigh at a software company called SAS and Hannah set to become a schoolteacher.
Regardless of where life takes Yates, he'll have found memories of his time at UVa-Wise:
"I'm incredibly blessed to have been somewhere that gave me so much more than I could have ever given it."
UVa-Wise Sports Media Department