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Yeskie a big hit as Oregon State pitching coach

YESKIECORVALLIS — Five years ago, after he had been let go as pitching coach at Nevada-Las Vegas, Nate Yeskie worked driving a forklift and for what he called a "mom-and-pop Home Depot-like shop" in Reno, Nev., selling industrial pipe.

Fast forward to today, where he is pitching coach for an Oregon State team that is seeded third nationally and stands two wins away from a berth in the College World Series.

"I'm having the time of my life right now," says Yeskie, 38. "I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of all of this."

Yeskie presides over a pitching staff that owns the second-best ERA in the nation at 2.18 and has been the driving force behind the Beavers' 48-10 record going into a best-of-three super regional against Kansas State that starts Saturday at Corvallis.

"They've been a tremendous group," says Yeskie, in his fifth season handling the pitching staff for coach Pat Casey. "As Pat always says, players win games. They can make you look awfully smart. Our guys are good, and they know what their jobs are. They've done it pretty good 48 times."

Yeskie was an outstanding pitcher at UNLV, a hard-throwing right-hander who holds the school single-season record for strikeouts. A ninth-round draft pick by Minnesota in 1996, he spent five years in the Twins' organization, advancing as high as Double-A.

After serving three years as pitching coach at his alma mater, Yeskie was fired during a restructuring of the staff by head coach Buddy Gouldsmith. For a year, Yeskie went the blue-collar route, giving pitching lessons on the side with a mind to get back into college coaching with the right opportunity.

It came when David Wong left the Oregon State staff after the 2008 campaign. Yeskie had worked often trading scouting reports with then-OSU assistant coach Marty Lees, who recommended him to Casey. Yeskie got the job.

Now Yeskie oversees a pitching staff considered on par with the Jonah Nickerson-Dallas Buck-Kevin Gunderson group that led Oregon State to the first of back-to-back national titles in 2006.

"Nate gets a ton of credit for that," Casey says. "Look at how our guys have developed. That says a lot about the job Nate has done."

Starters Matt Boyd, Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler were all all-Pac-12 first team. Moore (13-1, 1.22 ERA) was the league's freshman of the year. Freshman Max Englebrekt has become one of the loop's premier closers. Five other pitchers have an ERA under 3.00. If it's not unprecedented in Pac-12 history, it's pretty close.

"The real compliment to them is that they are professionals in how they handle their business," Yeskie says. "They're students of the game, and they respect the game. A lot of young kids don't know what that means. We've spent a lot of time trying to lay that groundwork.

"From Boyd to Wetzler to whoever's thrown the least on our team, they've genuinely cared for each other. They've eliminated the selfishness. They pull for each other. They work on their craft. They don't get caught up in a lot of the things they can't control. It's been a pleasure to work with this group."

"Nate has done so much for all of us," says Wetzler, the junior left-hander who is 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA. "He's the hardest-working coach we have. He does his homework every day. I can't believe how much time he spends with scouting reports, getting information that helps us do our job well."

Boyd says Yeskie has been more than a coach.

"He's been a second father to all of us," says Boyd, the senior left-hander who is 10-3 with a 2.20 ERA. "I've grown so much as a man and a player underneath his tutelage. He's a great coach and, at the same time, a mentor. He helps us with the mechanics and the mental side of the game.

"I'm so grateful to have had him for my four years at Oregon State. I've become a better pitcher. Nobody has a coach more committed or dedicated to each of us, on and off the field."

The first couple of years at Oregon State were learning ones for Yeskie. Gradually, he has gained the trust of Casey and his pitchers.

"He has only gotten better as a coach in my four years," Boyd says. "It comes with experience."

"Nate has matured as a coach," Casey says, "and as a person. He has evolved, as so many of us do."

One thing Casey has grown to appreciate is Yeskie's willingness to allow each pitcher his own style.

"There's a thing about coaching that is very important," Casey says. "You don't coach out the individual characteristics of a guy. There's a reason why Matt Boyd winds up a little different than Benny Wetzler, for instance. You have to be able to allow a kid to be himself and then work from that.

"It's like, here's the foundation of how this guy throws. Work with that and change the things within that delivery that can make him better. Nate does a great job with that. And his guys, they have a lot of confidence in him."

Wetzler considers Yeskie's work with fundamentals a strength.

"He's great with technique," Wetzler says. "He spends so much time watching video, figuring out what needs to change just a little bit to make things more successful."

Yeskie watches video of both his pitchers and opposing batters, then prepares detailed scouting reports that his pitchers find to be spot-on.

"Preparation is a key to anything you do," he says. "My job is to prepare them for any possibilities but focus on the things they can control. If my guys are prepared in addition to the natural ability they possess, we have a pretty good chance for success. The guys have put trust in it.

"But we only use video when it's applicable. Some kids can just paralyze themselves with too much video. We pick and choose and look at things. Some of the guys take it home and watch it by themselves, and that's great."

The relationship between Casey and Yeskie has grown. Casey has veto power in all decisions, but they work well together. They go into each game with a plan and improvise accordingly, generally reaching a decision through a collaborative effort.

"Nate doesn't have an ego about that," Casey says. "Almost every game about the seventh inning or so, we have a discussion. I ask him, 'What are you thinking? Who do we go to if we need to?' We'll discuss it. We'll look at hitters coming up and decide what to do. A few times, I'll say I think we need to go a certain way. But usually, I let Nate go with his gut feeling. He has earned that."

"Things will always be evolving and different," Yeskie says, "but Pat and I seem to be on a very one-track mind with things. We often see things very similar. Other times we don't, but it's good that we don't. It really opens up for some conversation. It has benefitted our players and also both of us."

Yeskie throws each of his starters one flat-ground bullpen session between starts -- 30 or fewer pitches. All of his pitchers "catch play" (play catch) for 10 or 15 minutes every day.

"Catch play is of the utmost importance," Yeskie says. "If you can narrow and sharpen your focus during catch play, your chances of doing it in a game increase dramatically."

He stresses rest. Sleep habits. Nutrition.

"Those things have a ripple effect on everything you do, and the people around you," he says.

In previous years, Yeskie enlisted the services of a "mental coach" to work with his pitchers once or twice a year. This year, with the veteran leadership provided by such as Boyd and Wetzler, "he's let the older guys teach the younger guys," Wetzler says. "That's been pretty cool."

Yeskie considers himself a work in progress as a coach.

"I learn as much as the players do every year," he says. "It takes time to gain trust from the players.

"I have to earn that. It's an ongoing thing. You do what you think is best for each guy. It doesn't mean you're always going to be right. You can make what you think are the right moves and it doesn't work out. That's baseball."

Yeskie married a former OSU volleyball player, Brittney Belshe, nearly two years ago. They have a 14-month-old daughter, A.J., and have settled into the Corvallis community. Brittney's uncle, Scott Sanders, is an ex-Beaver football and baseball player who is football coach at Crescent Valley High.

"I love it here," Yeskie says. "The people of Corvallis have embraced me and my family. Each year seems to get better. It's such a special dynamic. I don't see myself going anywhere else, or even wanting to."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers