Scoggins: Gophers pitching coach makes most of extra innings

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 20, 2013 - 11:02 PM

After a leukemia diagnosis and bone marrow transplant, Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes’ recovery has inspired others to donate time, money, blood and stem cells.

hide

Todd Oakes’ battle with leukemia prompted several Gophers players to routinely donate blood and sign up for the Be The Match marrow registry. “A lot of ways it’s had a positive influence on people,” Oakes said. “It’s weird how it all worked out.”

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

As he took his spot in the dugout, Todd Oakes quietly wondered how he would feel. Would his competitiveness remain as strong as ever? Would he react to a walked batter with a shrug? Would he still feel as much passion for coaching after surviving the horror of leukemia?

His uncertainty vanished with the first pitch.

“I can still get worked up,” he said. “If it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. Man, I wanted to win.”

Oakes resumed his role as Gophers pitching coach this season, still weakened physically but in remission after undergoing a bone marrow transplant in September. He oversees a pitching staff that finished second in the Big Ten in earned-run average and needs another strong showing in the conference tournament at Target Field this week.

Some side effects linger, but Oakes is back doing what he loves with his sense of humor intact.

“I’m as good as I’m going to look for right now,” he said. “Not that I was any box of chocolates before.”

Oakes felt unusually tired last spring as he neared the end of his 14th season as a Gophers assistant. He became short of breath just climbing stairs. He knew something was wrong but delayed visiting his doctor until after the season. Tests confirmed cancer — acute myeloid leukemia.

“A few minutes later, the doctor says, ‘But it’s treatable,’ ” Oakes said. “That sounds better. Now we’re back on the right track.”

Oakes, 52, admits to being a “worrywart,” but he never allowed himself to consider the worst-case scenario. He didn’t ask doctors about survival rates, and he refused to ask, Why me? Instead, he looked at his illness as, Why not me?

He told his doctors and nurses that they would learn three things about him: “I’m stupid, I’m stubborn, but I am coachable.” Those characteristics steered his recovery.

Oakes spent 50 days in a hospital undergoing chemotherapy. On good days, he watched TV and updated his CaringBridge site, which became a therapeutic tool for him to express his emotions while updating the baseball community on his condition. Some days, he couldn’t do anything but sleep.

Oakes needed a bone marrow transplant, and tests determined his brother, Jerald, was a match. Todd is forever grateful for his brother’s gift — 5.1 million healthy stem cells. He left the hospital two weeks after his transplant and has received positive results in three subsequent biopsies. He considers himself lucky.

“Some people don’t get through the initial process,” he said. “They never get to hear that word ‘remission’ from the doctor.”

His lowest moment came during a conversation with the wife of former Gophers baseball player Rob Smith, who died from acute leukemia in late September. Oakes and Smith were in the same hospital a few rooms apart during treatment.

“They were sending him home because there was nothing more they could do for him,” Oakes said. “When [Smith’s wife] left the room, I sat and cried like a baby. That’s when it kind of really hit me, what this is all about.”

Oakes found support in an expansive network of friends and former players. Known as “TO” within the Gophers baseball family, Oakes has mentored hundreds of Gophers pitchers, including 18 selected in the MLB amateur draft.

His supporters held fundraisers in his honor during his convalescence. One event raised more than $20,000 to help with medical bills and featured a bidding war between Twins closer Glen Perkins and General Manager Terry Ryan over an Adirondack chair. Ryan claimed it with a winning bid of $3,400.

“I’ve been so close with him for so many years,” Perkins said of his former pitching coach. “He’s been a father figure for me and mentor and everything to me.”

  • related content

  • Chart: Big Ten baseball tournament info

    Monday May 20, 2013

    Who: The top six finishers from the regular season — No. 1 seed Indiana (17-7 in Big Ten), No. 2...

  • Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes received a bone marrow transplant to help him recover from leukemia.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: B. McCarthy 3 FINAL
Toronto - WP: J. Happ 4
Philadelphia - LP: A. Burnett 5 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: D. Gee 6
Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: J. Hughes 2
Minnesota - LP: R. Nolasco 8 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: W. Chen 12
Boston - WP: C. Buchholz 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: A. Cobb 0
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Quintana 6
Texas - LP: N. Cotts 2 FINAL
Houston - WP: J. Veras 3
Chicago Cubs - LP: C. Villanueva 6 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: P. Neshek 9
Oakland - LP: S. Kazmir 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: M. Shoemaker 8
Milwaukee - LP: K. Lohse 5 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 15
Los Angeles - WP: H. Ryu 7 FINAL
San Diego - LP: E. Stults 1
Washington - LP: T. Roark 3 FINAL
Seattle - WP: H. Iwakuma 5
Colorado - LP: J. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
Arizona - WP: C. Anderson 6
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 0 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: A. Wood 1
Cleveland 4 Suspended
Kansas City 2
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 FINAL
(3) Oregon 62
(25) Washington 17 FINAL
Hawaii 16
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Red Bull New York 0 FINAL
D.C. 2
Los Angeles 3 FINAL
Chivas USA 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 30 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Toronto 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 3:30 PM
Calgary
Phoenix 77 FINAL
Minnesota 82
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close