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.”

Oakes’ son, Tyler, assumed his dad’s coaching duties in his absence and remains with the team as a volunteer assistant. Todd’s stamina and strength are returning gradually, but he’s still dealing with post-transplant complications known as graft-versus-host disease. Symptoms include nauseousness, a severe rash and fatigue.

“My legs feel like I run a marathon every day,” he said earlier this season.

But he’s on the road to recovery. Oakes also takes solace in the ripple effect that his illness has had on his players. Many of them routinely give blood now and also participated in a Be The Match marrow registry drive on campus. Sophomore pitcher Jordan Jess learned that he is a match and donated his stem cells in early February.

“I probably wouldn’t have signed up if it wasn’t for TO,” Jess said. “When they called, I was shocked. Then I was like, this is cool because hopefully I’ll get to help save someone’s life.”

Oakes can’t help but consider his cancer a blessing in that regard.

“A lot of ways it’s had a positive influence on people,” he said. “I remember when Jordan called and told me, I got tingles up and down my body. I got this sensation. It’s weird how it all worked out.”

 

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com.

 

  • 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

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas 2 Bottom 9th Inning
LA Angels 1
Philadelphia 6 Top 8th Inning
Oakland 6
San Francisco 2 Bottom 7th Inning
San Diego 5
Arizona 3 Top 9th Inning
Colorado 8
Cincinnati - A. Simon 7:05 PM
St. Louis - L. Lynn
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 4th Qtr 3:12
Arizona 20
Denver 5 4th Qtr 11:19
Seattle 17
Kansas City 21 4th Qtr 9:14
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 3rd Prd 16:51
Washington 1
St. Louis 0 1st Prd 9:52
Columbus 1
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Calgary
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 1:23
Saskatchewan 24
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 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
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: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close