Cancer Claims Gopher Assistant Coach
Minneapolis, MN (Gophersports.com) - Longtime University of Minnesota assistant baseball coach Todd Oakes passed away today after a courageous and public battle with leukemia. Oakes, who coached the Minnesota pitching staff, was 55.
Oakes was initially diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in June 2012. After intensive treatment, he was in remission for more than two years before receiving news in November 2014 that the cancer had returned. After another remission announcement in January 2015, Oakes learned his cancer had returned in September 2015.
Oakes joined the Gopher Baseball family on Nov. 2, 1998. In his 18 years with the Maroon and Gold, Minnesota had 26 of his pitchers drafted into Major League Baseball, including first-round draft pick and current Minnesota Twin Glen Perkins. Oakes coached Perkins to back-to-back All-America seasons in 2003 and 2004. Ten Gopher pitchers have been drafted in the past five MLB Drafts.
Under Oakes, Gopher pitchers have always ranked highly in the Big Ten. In his first year on staff, Minnesota’s earned run average dropped from 5.73 in 1999 to 4.20 in 2000. That year, Minnesota allowed 240 earned runs after allowing 339 the previous season. In addition, the Gophers gave up only 28 home runs in 2000 after permitting 51 in 1999. In 2003, the Gophers had 404 strikeouts, which is the third-most in school history. Minnesota would set a school record in 2006 with 421 strikeouts.
Since Oakes joined the Gopher staff, Minnesota has had an All-Big Ten First or Second Team pitcher in all but three years. Prior to the 2016 season, the Gophers’ last three All-Big Ten First Team selections were all pitchers (Tom Windle and DJ Snelten in 2013 and Oakes’ son, T.J., in 2012). In all, nine Gopher pitchers were named All-Big Ten First-Team under Oakes.
Prior to joining the Gophers, Oakes spent 16 years with the San Francisco Giants organization as a player and a coach. He was drafted by the Giants in 1983 and played four years in the organization before moving into the Giants coaching ranks in 1987 and spent the next 12 years as a pitching coach at various levels of the organization. In 1997, Oakes was named the Giants’ minor league pitching coordinator and oversaw every minor league pitching staff in the organization.
Originally from Spring Grove, Minn., Oakes was a three-sport athlete and earned 13 varsity letters in baseball, basketball and football at Spring Grove High School. Oakes then attended Waldorf College (Iowa) where he earned Second-Team All-America honors as a sophomore. After graduating magna cum laude with his Associate of Arts degree, Oakes enrolled at Nebraska. In his two seasons with the Cornhuskers, Oakes compiled a 16-4 record and earned Second-Team All-Big Eight honors in 1983. He excelled in the classroom as well and was named Third-Team Academic All-American as he earned his degree in Education.
Since learning of his diagnosis in 2012, Oakes had been an active member of Minnesota’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chapter. In 2014, Oakes was nominated to run for LLS Man of the Year. He not only helped raise awareness, but also raised more than $75,000 for blood cancer research. After his Man of the Year campaign, Oakes continued to help other patients as he served on the executive board for LLS. This mission started a "Strike Out Cancer" campaign and the Gophers have dedicated games to LLS fundraising and awareness in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Inspired by Oakes, many people connected to the Gophers joined the bone marrow/stem cell registry, and three of his pitchers (Oakes’ son TJ, Jordan Jess and Cody Campbell) have become donors.
While going through his battle, Oakes updated his CaringBridge site often, which gained a strong following. With his words of wisdom, his faith and outlook on his battle, the inspiration on CaringBridge turned Oakes into an author. In January 2016, Oakes wrote ‘Why Not Me? My Battle With Leukemia.’
Oakes married the love of his life, Terri, and the couple has three sons, Tyler, T.J. and Tanner. All three children are following their father’s footsteps of becoming a pitching coach. Tyler has been a coach at North Dakota State since 2013, T.J. is in his first year as the pitching coach at St. Mary’s (Winona) and Tanner is coaching at a local high school.