Todd Oakes was at home on the baseball field. Even as a 7th grader, he made the varsity baseball team. He was a kid playing with near adults and holding his own. Regardless of the odds, Todd always believed, “Why not me?’
Todd spent his time as a kid running around town, playing sports, and helping out at his dad’s gas station. He went to Sunday school and sipped on Spring Grove Soda Pop.
As he grew, he dominated the Spring Grove sports scene. He was a 3-time male athlete of the year, 2-time football MVP, 3-time basketball MVP, and 3-time baseball MVP. While he excelled at all sports, baseball was his passion.
Todd went on to pitch at the University of Nebraska and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 20th round of the 1983 MLB draft. Todd battled in the minor leagues for 15 years before changing directions.
No matter where he was living, he found himself returning to Minnesota in his spare time to visit family and friends, so when the University of Minnesota invited him to become their next pitching coach, he happily accepted.
In 18 years as the Golden Gophers pitching coach, Todd helped to shape over 20 pitchers that made it to the big leagues, including Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins. “There is not a single person more responsible for the career I’ve had than Todd Oakes,” Perkins said, “He has impacted me on the field more than anyone could have imagined or would have expected from a college pitching coach.”
In 2012, Todd was diagnosed with leukemia. Like the battler on the mound, he dug in his heels to fight. His “Never give up! Never give in!” attitude inspired those around him. He even wrote a book to help others find the courage to win their own cancer battles titled, Why Not Me? My Battle with Leukemia.
Todd served on the board of directors for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and was nominated for their Man of the Year Award in 2014.
Sadly, Todd lost his battle to leukemia in May of 2016, just as another baseball season was starting to gain momentum. In Spring Grove he is remembered as our greatest athlete and a man who touched the lives of many, both in his hometown and everywhere he went.
Story by Tyler Omoth