Family ties not changing how TJ and Todd Oakes approach the game

The freshman pitcher has already moved into the starting rotation.


Mark Vancleave


John Hageman

For most dads watching their sons playing collegiate baseball, the experience is a nerve-wracking one. But Todd Oakes isnâÄôt watching his son, freshman TJ Oakes, from the stands. HeâÄôs watching from the dugout. Todd is in his 12th season as the pitching coach for the Minnesota baseball team, while his son has the pitching staffâÄôs second-lowest ERA this season. TJ has come out of the gates strong in his first season, but the decision to move him into the starting rotation was one that Minnesota head coach John Anderson said he helped with, so the burden wasnâÄôt completely on his father. âÄúI told him, âÄòIâÄôve seen enough of him out of the bullpen, itâÄôs time to get out there as one of our starters,âÄôâÄù Anderson said. âÄúHe didnâÄôt disagree.âÄù TJ said his dad has coached his legion team in Jordan, Minn., for the past four summers, so having him in the dugout was nothing new. âÄúIt was kind of like the same old feeling, but at a higher level,âÄù TJ said. The right-hander added that he has dreamed of playing at this level for a long time and watching his dad as the pitching coach for the Gophers since he was in elementary school has certainly been an influence. TJâÄôs added exposure to the game throughout his life is what his dad said has taught him the most, not necessarily coaching on the techniques. âÄúYou can learn a lot by watching,âÄù Todd said. âÄúNow I get the chance to kind of coach them and fine-tune them.âÄù But some may think that, being the coachâÄôs son, TJ is going to get some added attention. But his dad received some advice that he said helps avoid this problem. âÄúTreat every kid youâÄôre coaching like theyâÄôre your own son, and treat your son like every player on the team,âÄù Todd said. Anderson added that TJ being ToddâÄôs son was not the sole reason they brought him to Minnesota. Rather, they believe he can help the program like any other player. âÄú[The players] know TJ is a good player, and he belongs here,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúI think our kids are interested in having people âĦ as long as they can make contributions to the program.âÄù But having his dad as the coach on the team did make it easy for TJ to choose where he wanted to play college baseball âÄî he didnâÄôt even talk to many other schools and followed his brother. ToddâÄôs eldest son Tyler was a senior pitcher last year. But Tyler struggled in his time with the Gophers, posting an 8.55 ERA in 20 innings pitched during his senior campaign. âÄúIâÄôm not unlike any other dad,âÄù Todd said. âÄúI want to see them succeed, and thatâÄôs one of the things IâÄôve learned parenting âĦ Sometimes you have to let your kids fail. ThatâÄôs when they grow up and mature and learn is when they fail and fall flat on their face.âÄù Anderson said he and Todd had concerns about whether it was a good idea for Todd to be TJâÄôs coach before the season. âÄúI think Todd did grow and learn a lot about coaching his sons from that first experience (with Tyler),âÄù Anderson said. âÄúI think thatâÄôs why he decided to go ahead and take another shot at it. He felt he was going to be a little more prepared.âÄù Before TJ was born, his father was a minor-league pitcher with the San Francisco Giants. After four years at that level, he took a coaching position within the organization. But after 12 years having the coaching tasks dictated to him , Todd said the move to the collegiate level was a liberating one. âÄúProfessional baseball in the minor leagues is all about developing the prospects,âÄù Todd said. âÄúI came here âĦ and I was a free man to coach again. It was a whole new concept to me.âÄù With ToddâÄôs brief stint as a pitcher in the minor leagues and his youngest son Tanner pitching high school ball in Jordan, genes and exposure may be the best explanation for his sonsâÄô desire to be on the mound. âÄúSons and daughters want to please their parents,âÄù Todd said. âÄúI would like to think I didnâÄôt pressure them to be pitchers. They just kind of gravitated to that.âÄù While Todd may have had an influence on TJâÄôs decision to be a pitcher, TJ has had a positive influence on the GophersâÄô season so far, and Anderson said his composure has a lot to do with his success. âÄúWe knew he had good stuff, and physically he was good enough,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúThe hardest thing for a freshman player is to maintain your composure âĦ and heâÄôs been phenomenal for a freshman kid.âÄù