Gophers play through pain of lost coach

Storied pitching coach, Todd Oakes passed away last Thursday.

Jack White

While Minnesota will make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 this week, one important member of the team will be absent from the dugout.
Longtime Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes passed away on Thursday after a four-year battle with leukemia, just before Minnesota’s second game of the Big Ten Tournament. Oakes had served as Minnesota’s pitching coach for 18 years.
“[I] just told the team, I think they’ve done an amazing job of managing their emotions here through the course of the season because of their love for [Oakes] and concern and at the same time trying to focus on going to school, getting a degree and playing some baseball,”  head coach John Anderson said. 
Oakes’s legacy started long before he ended up at Minnesota. The Spring Grove, Minn., native was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1983 and played professionally for four years before starting his coaching career. 
Oakes served as a pitching coach across many levels of the Giants organization for 12 years and was named the program-wide pitching coordinator in 1997. 
Oakes joined Minnesota’s staff as a pitching coach in 1997. Oakes helped coach the Gophers to six 
conference championships, 26 pitchers taken in the MLB Draft and a school record of 421 strikeouts set in 2006. 
Current Minnesota Twins pitcher Glen Perkins was coached to two All-American seasons at Minnesota under Oakes. Perkins paid tribute to his beloved coach on Twitter Thursday.
“[Oakes] taught me that a bad day at the field is a better day than sitting at a cubicle. He taught me that baseball is just a game and should be treated as such,” he tweeted. “He taught me that there is more to life than baseball. He taught me that a faith in God is more important than any of the above. And for that, I am eternally grateful.” 
Despite his cancer diagnosis, Oakes made a tremendous impact off the field. 
He started a “Strike Out Cancer” campaign and helped raise more than $75,000 for blood cancer research through fundraising. Some of the profits have come through Gophers games dedicated to the cause.
Oakes’ leukemia had been in remission thanks to a bone marrow transplant. Gophers pitchers senior Jordan Jess and junior Cody Campbell and Oakes’s son TJ, a former Minnesota player, have since become members of the bone marrow and stem cell registry in hopes of making a difference in Oakes’s honor. 
“He’s like our dad at school, I guess you could say, and being around him for five-plus years everyday out here practicing, he’s like our mentor. It’s extremely tough,” Jess said. “But we know now he’s in a better place; he’s not suffering anymore and he’ll be with us every step of the way. Everything we do now from here on out is going to be for him, and we were just fortunate enough to have him as our pitching coach.” 
Senior Dan Motl made a video tribute on behalf of the team with messages to their coach, in which Oakes’s “25” jersey hung in the background. Motl declared the team would win the title for “T.O.”
The Gophers held to Motl’s promise and won their first conference title since 2010 on May 20. Anderson said he took the trophy to Oakes’s home afterward, where the team wanted it. 
The Gophers will head to College Station, Texas, to take on Wake Forest in the West Regional on Friday. Although Oakes was unable to be with the team for most of the season, the players kept him in their hearts as their season continued. 
“He hasn’t been able to be here, but he’s as much a part of this as any person that is here,” said senior Connor Schaefbauer. “These next couple days will be pretty emotional for us as a team, but he will be here. He’ll be with us when we go Texas A&M [for regionals] and years to 
come.”