FARGO — The office of the head coach for North Dakota State baseball was largely vacant on Monday morning, with the visible exception of the large Summit League championship trophy sitting on the desk. The space is certainly a step up from the closest-like office of the assistants.
Yes, moving from associate head coach to taking over the program is a major step up for Tyler Oakes. It also represents a deviation from the family tradition in coaching baseball.
His father, Todd Oakes, was a minor league and Division I assistant for many years, never opting for any opportunity to be a head coach.
“It’s just something he didn’t want to do,” Tyler said. “He liked the assistant role more, avoiding more of the administrative stuff and just coach and recruit.”
Tyler was named the head Bison coach a day after Father’s Day, something that tugged at his emotions. Todd Oakes died in 2016 at the age of 55 after a long battle with leukemia. His coaching legacy is living on through his son.
“I have no doubt he would be proud of what I’m doing,” Tyler said. “And not only from a coaching perspective but more of how I treat people and go about my business. He would be more proud of that than a head coaching title.”
Tyler had a chance to go with Tod Brown when the longtime Bison head coach was named to the same post at the University of New Mexico. Tempting, perhaps, but it was time for an Oakes to be a head coach.
His fiance, Ingrid Scantlebury, has a good job here. His family roots are in the Twin Cities area. Baseball has taken him many places and Fargo has been the destination since he was named the Bison pitching coach in 2014.
Baseball has been his life. He goes back to the days as far as he can remember when his father was an assistant coach in the San Francisco Giants minor league system. That included stops in California, Arizona and Louisiana.
The kid’s life was hanging out at the park at batting practice, shagging balls in the outfield or going into the locker room after games.
“It was a cool experience and something I’ll always cherish,” Tyler said. “Those experiences are rare to come by.”
Todd was named a Gopher assistant in 1998. One of his pitchers was Tyler, who played from 2006-09.
“He was very patient, had a very patient flatline personality,” Tyler said. “He was a high level competitor but people didn’t always see that because of how level minded he was. The other thing was just the way he treated people. You’re going to win games and you’re going to lose games but are people having a good experience? Are you helping them in other areas of life? Are they ready to go into a different profession other than baseball? Those are the values he instilled in me I can take with me.”
Oakes is taking over a program that isn’t broken. The Bison not only won a Summit title but won a game in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. They did it predominantly with a Midwest-based roster and Oakes said that will not change.
“I think there will always be changes but for the most part you don’t want to screw up a good thing either,” he said.
He’ll continue to work with the pitchers while the assistants will handle the offense. Oakes isn’t concerned about the baseball end of it; it’s the administrative responsibilities of being a head coach are what is new.
Until now, it hasn’t been in the Oakes family tree.
“I wish he was still around to enjoy some of the moments,” Tyler said, “but he’s looking down on me, too.”