Former baseball star Gates aiming to strike at Alexandra Palace

Leonard Gates (Taylor Lanning/PDC)

Gerwyn Price came from a rugby background to conquer the darting world, and now former baseball player Leonard Gates is aiming to write his own sporting fairytale at this year’s Cazoo World Darts Championship.

Gates will make his Alexandra Palace debut after sealing his qualification with victory in June’s North American Championship at Madison Square Garden, in the PDC's inaugural visit to New York.

Despite plying his trade on the soft-tip circuit for three decades, Gates is still a relative newcomer when it comes to the PDC big stage, although he possesses no shortage of sporting pedigree.

Gates kicked off his sporting career as a Minor League baseball pitcher, fresh from leaving college during the 1990s.

The 52-year-old featured for the Philadelphia Phillies, Abilene Prairie Dogs, Massachusetts Mad Dogs, Catskill Cougars and Nashua Pride before calling time on his baseball career in 2001.

“That was a journey. I love baseball. I had so much fun doing something I love. I was on top of the world back then,” reflected the Texas-born star.

“I definitely had ambitions of becoming a Major League player. It’s easy to get in, but it’s tough to stay there, and it was a case of what do I do next?

“I chose to try and find something else, and I found darts. I started playing soft tip in 1994 but I ventured out and played some steel tip. 

“I hit a 140 with my first three darts, and I said: ‘I like this,’ and I’ve stuck with it.”

Gates will be one of five North American stars featuring in this year's £2.5m event, and he will take on Dutch qualifier Geert Nentjes on his World Championship bow on Monday December 19.

The man nicknamed 'The Soldier' has enjoyed a breakthrough 2022 campaign, defeating Fallon Sherrock to reach the US Darts Masters quarter-finals earlier this summer.

He continued his big stage progress with appearances at the World Series of Darts Finals and the Grand Slam of Darts, and he's taken inspiration from North American icon John Part ahead of this year's showpiece.

Three-time World Champion Part famously ended Phil Taylor's World Championship monopoly in an epic 2003 final, to become the first non-European player to win the title.

Part - who also won the first World Championship staged at Alexandra Palace in 2008 - has competed on the Championship Darts Corporation circuit over recent years, and Gates insists the Canadian's support has been invaluable.

"Speaking with John and hearing his story, it just amazes me," admitted the Houston thrower, who will play former Lakeside champion Stephen Bunting if he comes through his opening round tie.

"The knowledge and wisdom John has to offer is fantastic. To speak to somebody who has won this title and has been through that, it's great. He is a huge inspiration, and he's just a great guy."

Part's legacy has been illustrated by the growth of North American darts throughout the last decade, and now Gates is aiming to become the latest star to flourish in the sport's biggest event.

“I’m on the ride of my life right now,” Gates added. “I’ve had wonderful experiences this year and I want more of it. I’m so ecstatic. The closer it gets the more excited I am.

“Ally Pally is the biggest darting stage in the world and I’m going to try and shine.”