Minnesota’s game against North Dakota State on Tuesday will double as a family reunion for Todd and Tyler Oakes.
Both pitching coaches, Todd Oakes will post up in Minnesota’s dugout, and Tyler, his oldest son, will be in North Dakota State’s.
Tyler, who pitched for Minnesota from 2006-09, served as a pitching coach for two years at South Dakota State and then as a volunteer pitching coach at Minnesota before taking his current job.
Though Tyler’s coaching career has just started to take off, his father said he’s been a coach of sorts ever since he was a kid.
“He had a coach’s mind way back when he was 7 or 8 years old,” the elder Oakes said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that he gravitated to the coaching world.”
When Todd was working within the San Francisco Giants organization in the late 1990s, his three sons often sat in the stands and observed.
“You can learn a lot about the game if you just sit and watch,” Todd said. “That’s where they learned the game.”
Todd said Tyler has always had an awareness and love for the game.
“I’ve always kind of had that coach’s brain, I guess, where I’m kind of digging deeper into things than maybe someone else might,” Tyler said.
Tyler played rookie ball for a year after his collegiate career ended, pitching for a minor-league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I got the opportunity in pro ball, but I was realistic about it,” he said.
He eventually moved on and earned his master’s degree at South Dakota State while serving as a graduate assistant coach.
Tyler searched for the next step in his coaching career after finishing his degree and found it at Minnesota. He stepped in as a volunteer pitching coach last season after his father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
“There are a lot of baseball similarities in terms of philosophy between his dad and [him],” head coach John Anderson said. “That’s why we had him in here in our program while his father was battling leukemia.”
The younger Oakes said he and his father both sport a “flatline personality” — never too high or low.
Minnesota sophomore pitcher Lance Thonvold has been a first hand observer of the similarities between the two. He was recruited by Todd at Minnesota and by Tyler at South Dakota State.
“I told him no for his dad, Todd,” Thonvold said.
Now, he’s been coached by both of them.
“You can tell they come from that same family tree,” Thonvold said.
That family connection and Tyler’s familiarity with the program made it slightly easier for Gophers pitchers when Todd was away from the team.
Tyler was set to return for another season as volunteer pitching coach at Minnesota after last season when he got a call from North Dakota State coach Tod Brown.
“A year ago, I probably wouldn’t [have] been able to … be here without his help just because of my health issues,” the elder Oakes said.
Todd is now recovered, and Tyler said the stars aligned for the North Dakota State job. It allowed him to coach at the Division I level and stay close to home.
“It’s been my goal to continue my coaching career [and] take that next step in the pecking order, and I can only be a volunteer for so long,” Tyler said. “You need to have the paychecks coming in, too, every once in a while.”
Tyler’s move to North Dakota State was made official in early December, and Tuesday’s matchup will be the first for the two teams with an Oakes on each bench.
Todd and Tyler have already faced off three times while Tyler was with South Dakota State — Tyler holds a 2-1 advantage over his father.
Todd said his son subtly rubs it in from time to time.
“If we’re going to lose to somebody,” Todd said, “[no one] better to do it to than your son.”
The Gophers have a chance to even out that record for Todd on Tuesday night.