Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Interview with Todd Oakes

Recently, I asked Todd Oakes if I could do a "blog interview" with him. I asked because not only do I admire what he has done for baseball in Jordan and the Gophers, but because of the solid role model he is for Jordan youth. I found out through this interview, that he has some insight on life that can help you and me go from good to great.

Enter Todd Oakes, current pitching coach of the Minnesota Golden Gopher baseball team. As a player Oakes was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, where he played in the organization for four years, and then spent the next 12 years as a pitching coach in various levels for the Giants. I'm honored that he choose to be interviewed by me. To read the entire interview, see below.

Most people only dream of making a career out of baseball, you’ve done something that almost every young boy dreams of. When did you create the goal making a career out of baseball, and what does it mean to you now that you’ve accomplished it?

I did have the dream as a youngster about being a major league baseball player – and there were many afternoons when I was in my backyard and I would create my own games with my waffle balls and bat (offense) and with throwing a rubber ball against the house (defense) – I had the whole Twins line-up (Tovar – Carew – Oliva – Killebrew – etc) and I would play my own backyard games – you don’t see much of that “sandlot baseball” anymore – that’s where I developed my skills and created my passion for baseball – right in the backyard.

Making a career out of baseball has been awesome – I have to remind myself often how great a job I have – my work clothes are a baseball uniform – can it get any better than that?

What has been the greatest or most interesting baseball accomplishment for you?

I would have to say my greatest baseball accomplishment has been coaching the Legion Baseball team in Jordan the past 6-8 summers – however long it has been. The success those teams have had and all we’ve accomplished has been remarkable and winning those D2 state tournaments and regional titles are some of my fondest memories in baseball. Driving back from places like Ely, MN and Viroqua, WI and Buelah, ND after winning the regional titles and listening to Ronny Beckman”s ipod music created memories I will never forget.

I guess maybe one of my more interesting memories was the number of times I got to throw batting practice to Barry Bonds when I coached in the Giants organization. I respect what he did as a player but I do not respect how he went about it, how he treated other players, how he did not respect the game, how selfish he was. I think he was actually insecure and baseball was his only outlet. I got to know his Dad a little bit – Bobby Bonds – and enjoyed getting to know him – went golfing with him a few times.

We all go through rough spots in life, have you ever had set-backs and what helped you persevere?

We all experience setbacks in our lives. Sometimes I take the game too seriously and see every loss as a setback – and it’s really not – losing is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and get better.

I guess my biggest setback was some health issues I experienced a few summers ago - it was a “wake-up call” for me. It’s pretty sobering to hear a doctor say – “You know 33% of people that experience a pulmonary embolism die from it.” Boy does that hit you right between the eyes. How did I persevere? – faith, family, friends!

What information about division 1 baseball should be shared that isn’t?

Random thoughts on this:
1. Baseball athletes seldom if ever get “full rides” like some other sports – notably football and basketball. We get 11.7 full scholarships for a roster of 35 players – you can do the math – a lot of 25-33-50% scholarships.
2. The aluminum bat is destroying the integrity of the game – look at the college baseball scores – the game is way out of whack. TJ Oakes got hit with a line drive below the knee in our game last Sunday vs. Iowa and it was recorded at 105 mph off the aluminum bat – 105 mph and you’re standing about 50 feet away after you release the ball – I cannot do that math – but that’s scary and very, very dangerous.

As coach of young men, (college and high school) what type of impact do you hope to have on their lives?

My biggest goals with coaching young men are:
1. Teach them how to compete – you must compete every day – whether you are a baseball player, a farmer, an auto mechanic, a computer technician, whatever you do for a living – you must compete every day.
2. Teach them life skill skills – not just baseball skills – teach them how to compete, how to develop a work ethic, how to be responsible, how to make mature decisions, how to be an unselfish teammate.
3. Teach them mental and emotional skills – teach them how powerful your mind is – teach them how to have a positive attitude – teach them how to visualize success – teach them how to win and lose with poise and humbleness – teach them how to deal with adversity.

When you leave baseball, what would you like to be known for?

This is a tough question. I guess I would like to be known as a coach who cared more about the young men I coached as human beings and not just baseball players. I am hoping I have and will continue to be a positive role model for young men – that I displayed the character and attitude and competitiveness that they would like to portray. The relationships you develop are more meaningful and important than the wins and championships and rings. I hope I can teach young men how to be a responsible person and an unselfish teammate. I hope I can help prepare them to become Christ-like fathers, husbands, and citizens who can make the world around them a better place.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Too many pieces of advice to list really. But the ones that come to mind are:
1. You have two ears and one mouth – listen twice as much as you talk.
2. Never give up and never give in.
3. I have had the opportunity to coach all three of my sons and somebody told me to spend more time and focus being their Dad than their coach.
4. I’ve learned through reading the Bible and other FCA events that our ultimate goal in life is to be a “servant leader” for the Lord.
5. Ask yourself – “why are you here?” – “why are you doing what you do?”
6. An old coach once told me – “The two most important decisions you will make in your life are the woman you marry and the foods you eat” (My eating habits are terrible – but I over-achieved with the woman I married)

Knowing that the best learning opportunity comes from your mistakes, what was the biggest mistake/learning opportunity you ever had? What did you learn?

I think the biggest mistakes I have made have to do with “expectations” – expecting too much. When expectations are too high or unrealistic and they aren’t met – it leads to problems – whether it is your expectations for yourself or the expectations you have for others. Managing your emotions and expectations is a great challenge.

Looking at your 12 years as pitching coach for the Golden Gophers, the one constant of the pitching staff is improvement. The program is in a different spot than what it was 12 years ago. What motivates you for improvement, and what do you do to continually “raise the bar” year after year?

I do think I have helped the U of M Baseball program succeed – I hope I have made it better – that’s why they hired me – right? Gopher Baseball has a very strong winning tradition – I have just been a small part of it. Every year, every team is different and presents new personalities and new challenges – that’s why I say you must compete EVERY DAY – strive to get better – strive to help somebody get better and learn more about themselves – help them grow and mature. It all takes daily attention and a commitment to excellence on a daily basis. The young men on the team motivate me every day. There is always room for improvement.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I am blessed with a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior and I trust Him with all my heart and soul. I am blessed with a wife that I do not deserve – she has loved and supported me in a way that I could have never imagined – she has allowed me to pursue a career in coaching. I am blessed with three wonderful sons who have competitive but humble spirits. I am blessed with friends who support me and allow me to be somebody other than a “coach” all the time. We are fortunate to live in a community full of “good people.” This is my foundation and who I am.

Thank you!

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