Chris Cote has been an all-star wherever he has played, be it Nottingham Little League or Nottingham Babe Ruth. But he was never The Star. He has always been one of those guys who flew under the radar while other hard-hitting teammates got the attention.
In fact, even his mother Judy got more acclaim in mid-June, when a photo appeared in a daily paper showing her in relieved shock after a game-saving catch allowed her younger son Cameron’s Nottingham Little League team to win a thrilling District 12 game.
“That picture made the fridge,” Cote said with a laugh. “We had a lot of comments. We had a team party for the 12-year-olds, and that picture was the talk of the party.”
Don’t look now, but Cote began to surpass his mom in the popularity polls shortly after that photo was taken. This past spring, Cote won the starting third base job in his senior year at Steinert and batted .250 with nine runs scored and six RBI in his lone varsity season.
Over the summer he took a major step forward, as three games into the New Jersey American Legion District 2 Tournament Cote was batting .358 with 17 RBI and 14 runs scored. He will either play baseball at Hood College in Frederick, Md., or attend Mercer if the offseason coaching change at Hood is not to his liking.
“He’s a classic late bloomer who probably didn’t realize how good he could have been,” Post 31 manager Rick Freeman said. “But he kept working at it and all of a sudden he got himself a starting job at Steinert and kept it, and it carried over to the summer.”
His emergence helped give Hamilton a tougher batting order from top to bottom; he was hitting eighth most of the year before moving up to sixth during district play.
“You have to have balance in your lineup,” said Freeman, who won his 800th legion game and 1,000th overall game this summer. “If the guys at the bottom are hitting, that kind of takes the pressure off the guys at the top and vice versa. He’s been a steady presence for us in the bottom third of the order all year long.”
Cote was always one of those guys who looked like a slight wind would knock him over while coming up through the ranks. But he showed a strong glove as a middle infielder, which helped make him an All-Star.
‘I’m definitely the biggest and strongest I’ve been so far and mentally I’m the most confident.’
After several years as a sub-varsity player for Steinert; he decided to try martial arts.
“I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” Cote said. “It was striking Jiu-Jitsu. I started at the end of my junior year and kind of ran with it. I kind of have a calling for it; and it’s a lot of fun.”
Cote’s new-found strength was not without some natural help, as he was also developing a better body just through his genes.
“I was a small guy at the beginning of my high school career and all through even my junior year I was small,” he noted. “Then I started to sprout. It kind of runs in my family where we just sprout after high school. I definitely put on some size and strength and started getting in the gym with my friends.”
Freeman has no doubts that the martial arts sparked an improvement at the plate, noting that “it’s helped him immensely in terms of his strength. He’s wiry but he’s strong.”
Things did not start well at the start of the legion campaign for Cote, who battled an early slump. He tried not to let it get to him.
He also got some help from the Post 31 coaching staff, which enabled him to find a groove. “They got my swing back on track,” Cote said. “I’ve been seeing the ball great, putting good swings on it and good things have happened. They saw some things. I just gave them my swing and they tweaked it a little bit and it’s just been working out.”
What made Cote truly valuable this season was his ability to drive in big runs or make things happen in the middle of a rally.
“He’s gotten more clutch hits than I can even tell you,” coach Rich Giallella said.
“The bigger the situation, the better the hitter he is,” Freeman said. “He’s always had a good glove and a good arm. Could the bat catch up to it? It seems like it has.”
Cote’s efforts were not lost on teammate Jake Beyer, who was named this year’s Mercer County American Legion League’s Player of the Year for his outstanding offensive season.
“As a freshman, he started out on JV and stayed there the past few years, but the kid just got way better,” Beyer said. “He’s got more power behind the ball. He’s seeing the ball better. He’s got a really good arm, he’s even pitching a little for us (in relief). And he’s a great third baseman. He barely makes any errors over there so we can always count on him.”
What makes Cote’s defensive play even more impressive is that this was his first year at the hot corner.
“I had to get used to the reaction time down there,” he said. “But again, working with good coaches and good teammates, putting in work with a lot of ground balls really helps.”
As for his reaction to the season, it’s been all positive.
“For sure; both physically and mentally,” Cote said. “I’m the biggest I’ve ever been. I’m not huge yet but I’m definitely the biggest and strongest I’ve been so far and mentally I’m the most confident. It’s hard to get good confidence out there, I think I got it.”
And he has also made a name for himself, other than that of the kid whose mom’s picture was in the paper.