Yeskie shares CWS crown with grandfather
OMAHA, Nebraska — Oregon State's ride to the 2018 College World Series championship took the state's sports fans by storm, and for good reason.
Abetting the big picture is a human interest sidebar featuring the family of the Beavers' pitching coach, Nate Yeskie.
Yeskie, 43, spent the first 10 years of his life about five miles from rural Hixton, Wisconsin, population 423. Hixton is 10 miles from Black River Falls — population 3,600 — and a two-hour drive from Madison. Nate's father, Denny, was in the heating and air conditioning business. His grandfather, Bob Yeskie, operated a nearby dairy farm.
"Spent a lot of time on that farm while I was growing up," Nate says.
When Nate was 10, the Yeskies — Denny, wife Joan, Nate and his younger sister, Christina — moved to Carson City, Nevada, where Denny started his own heating and air conditioning business.
Nate remained close to his grandfather, though, making annual summer trips to his old home area during his teenage years, and visiting regularly during adulthood.
"They're real close," says Nate's aunt, Christine, the youngest of Bob's four children. "There's a lot in common between them. They share a competitiveness. Daddy has followed Nathan through his career (as a player and coach) in baseball. They've gone on hunting trips together over the years. If there's something wrong with Daddy, Nathan is right there."
Christine lives about two blocks from her father's place near Hixton. She has the Pac-12 Network at her house and regularly has her father over to watch Oregon State games.
Bob, who turns 91 in August, ran the family dairy farm until three years ago. The family still owns part of the farm, and Nate's uncle, Tim Yeskie, lives there and helps run the operation.
Nate developed a deep respect for his grandfather, along with his father and uncles Tim and Greg.
"My grandpa lived a very honest and modest lifestyle," Nate says. "Working dairy cows, there are no off days. He's a throwback in the best sense of the word. He's a man's man. He's going to fix things himself. He doesn't complain. He has worked for every dime he has ever made. He set the bar in our family for what it means to do things the right way and work hard. I can tell you, my dad and my uncles — they work hard."
The Yeskies have some "ball" history to their family. For years, Bob coached, Denny pitched and Greg played center field and caught for the local farm team in fastpitch softball. Their teams were good enough to participate in four national championships. Bob and Denny are both members of the Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Hall of Fame.
"It's in our blood," Nate says.
When Oregon State made it to the 2017 College World Series, Bob and Christine were among the Yeskie family members to attend, making the seven-hour drive from Wisconsin. "He really enjoyed it," Christine says.
When Bob turned 90 last August, Nate flew out to help him celebrate.
"It was a surprise," Christine says. "Nate took him to a Milwaukee Brewers game and spent a couple of days with us."
Two months later, Bob flew to Wyoming for a mule deer hunting trip with Denny and Greg. On the last day of the trip, he became ill.
"He was limping along but toughed it out," Christine says. "Denny and Daddy drove back together."
Two days later, doctors told him he had suffered a heart attack. The prognosis was not good.
"They gave him two months to live because of his age," Christine says. "They gave him until Christmas if he was lucky."
"They advised against a procedure and told him he should get his affairs in order," Nate says. "He told them, 'The hell with that. That's not how I choose to live my life.' He knew what was going to happen if he didn't get something done."
Bob Yeskie had two major reasons for wanting to live, Christine says. One was the annual hunting trip. The other was the chance to see his grandson coach in another College World Series.
In November, a surgeon inserted two stents in his arteries. Then a doctor suggested another possibility — a transaortic valve replacement (TAVR) in place of open-heart surgery. It was a risky operation given Bob's advanced age. After some discussion, Bob said he wanted to go for it.
"He told me, 'I have to get it done, because we have to go back to Omaha one more time,' " says Nate's wife, Brittany.
"Nathan told him, 'If you make it, Grandpa, I'll get to Omaha,' " Christine says.
The procedure took place Dec. 20.
"He came through with flying colors," Christine says. "Nathan flew back and surprised him. It was the best medicine Daddy could have had. He made a deal with Nathan — 'If you make (the CWS), I'll make it. See you in Omaha.'
"In the waiting room a few hours after the surgery, I heard Nathan on the phone with (OSU head coach) Pat Casey. He said, 'Looks like we have to get to Omaha.' "
Lo and behold, the Beavers made it there. So did Bob and Christine, along with Denny and nearly a dozen Yeskie family members. Bob and Christine made the long drive to Omaha and back twice.
"We watched the first two games in person, the next three games on TV (in Wisconsin), then drove back for the final three games," she says. "For them to win it all — and for Daddy to be there — was a dream come true."
Bob and Christine sat in the handicapped section right next to the field, but Bob refused to use a wheelchair.
"He's one of those proud, stubborn guys," she says, laughing. "We'd walk a ways, then stop."
After the championship game, Nate brought his grandfather onto the field to celebrate with the coaches and players. Nate made sure he got to hold the trophy.
"They were both choking back tears," Christine says. "It was the most incredible moment for me to see."
"To see him out there — I was in awe," Brittany Yeskie says. "I can't put words to it."
"It's the first time I've ever seen him get emotional," Nate says. "And I got emotional. It meant the world to me to have him and my dad there. You can't make this stuff up."
Bob Yeskie rode with his grandson on the team bus to the hotel after the game.
"He was thrilled about the whole thing," Christine says. "He said, 'That's something I'll never see again.' "
There are two ironic twists to the Bob Yeskie story.
He is the youngest of his parents' 13 children. His mother died when he was 5. The oldest brother wound up being the caretaker for the younger ones, an overwhelming task. At one point during the Great Depression in the mid-1930s, he looked into placing Bob and two of his brothers in Boys Town — located in Omaha.
"Daddy doesn't know why it never happened," Christine says.
On Father's Day, the Yeskies were in Omaha. Bob, Nate and Christine drove to Boys Town. It was the first time Bob had ever seen the place, dedicated to the care, treatment and education of at-risk children. It was an emotional visit.
There also is an Oregon connection. After Bob and Nate's late grandmother were married, they moved to John Day, where he worked in the dairy industry for three years. The oldest child, Greg, was born there before the family returned to Wisconsin.
Nate wound up being an outstanding baseball player, pitching collegiately at Nevada-Las Vegas and six seasons of minor-league ball, advancing as far as Double-A. He served as pitching coach for three years at UNLV before being let go in 2007. For a year, he was out of baseball, working at a plumbing supply company in Nevada.
After the 2008 season, Oregon State's pitching coach, David Wong, left his position. Then-OSU assistant coach Marty Lees had become acquainted with Yeskie and helped him get an interview with Casey. During Yeskie's last year coaching the Rebels, they had played a three-game series in Corvallis.
The Beavers had only three full-time coaching positions, which were filled by Casey, Lees and Pat Bailey. Casey offered Yeskie the pitching coach job as a volunteer. Yeskie accepted and worked on that basis for four years, earning wages through camps and private lessons. He guesses he made about $25,000 a year through that period. A bachelor, he lived with OSU's baseball trainer at the time, David Strickland, renting a house owned by former Beaver catcher Mitch Canham.
In 2010, Yeskie met Brittany, a former OSU volleyball player then attending grad school in Corvallis. They married in 2012. That year, Yeskie was elevated to a full-time coaching position with the Beavers.
The Yeskies now have a 6-year-old daughter, Avery. And Nate — honored as the nation's premier pitching coach and assistant coach in 2017 — has a living wage, along with College World Series memories that will last a lifetime for him and his family.