Yeskie warms to new job at Arizona
TUCSON, Arizona — Nate Yeskie was overdressed in a sweatshirt and sweatpants as he looked out at Hi Corbett Field on a postcard-perfect Friday morning, with the thermometer beginning its climb to 82 degrees.
"I don't know what the heck I was thinking," said Yeskie, Arizona's first-year associate head coach and pitching coach, with a sheepish grin. "I ran out the door at 6 a.m. and grabbed a sweater."
Early November in Corvallis — where Yeskie served as Oregon State's pitching coach for 11 years — isn't like this.
"I like the heat," Yeskie said. "I lived in Las Vegas for 14 years. It's nice knowing you are not going to have to necessarily battle the elements. You don't have to check the weather app to find out if you're going to be able to go outdoors today."
Yeskie got a pay raise and a bump in title when he was hired by Arizona head coach Jay Johnson on July 22, little more than a month after Oregon State hired Mitch Canham over Yeskie to replace Pat Casey as its head coach. Yeskie initially consented to staying on as Canham's pitching coach, but was clearly not happy to have been passed over for the job he really wanted.
In that regard, it may have been uncomfortable for Yeskie to work under Canham.
"But the decision had nothing to do with Mitch," he said. "It had to do with what I thought was in the best interest of my career moving forward and trying to take everything into consideration. Would I like to be a head coach some day? Absolutely. This is an opportunity for me to do some of those things that will be best for my career long-term."
Yeskie, 45, is not a head coach-in-waiting at Arizona. He is not the heir apparent to Johnson, 42. But Yeskie said he has added responsibilities and the chance for greater impact that will help prepare him to become a head coach down the line.
Arizona was 32-24 overall and 15-14 in Pac-12 play last season. Arizona missed the NCAA tournament despite having a .326 team batting average, third-best in Division 1 baseball. The Wildcats also had a 6.21 ERA, second-worst in the Pac-12. Yeskie's pitching crew at Oregon State had a 3.02 ERA, second nationally. The Wildcats are banking that Yeskie can bring his magic to Tucson.
After he chose to stay on at OSU following Canham's hiring, Yeskie was contacted by South Carolina and Mississippi State as well as "a handful of pro teams," he said. (He also was contacted this week by the New York Yankees about their vacant pitching coach position; he decided to remain at Arizona).
When Arizona beckoned, the possibilities appealed to Yeskie, even though he had little personal relationship with Johnson.
"(Athletic director) Dave Heeke and some people who work with him in his network were great in putting it together," Yeskie said. "And Jay reached out. He said, 'I may be way off base here, but do you have any interest in coming down here and working?'
"I wasn't looking for a job, but things had unfolded the way they did (with Canham's hiring), and I was like, 'You know what? Let's entertain this.' I had a great working relationship with both Pats (Casey and Bailey, who served as interim head coach last season). When that was different, I felt like I owed it to myself to take a look."
Associate head coach at a substantial raise in salary? Hard to turn down, Yeskie said.
"Any time you can get a promotion, that's a good thing," he said. "When you have a place that wants to escalate you, whether it be financially or by title or a combination of the two, you have to take those things in consideration.
"I know it wasn't a popular decision with some people (in Oregon), but I had to look out for what's best for my family. Nothing was done with any malice. The timing of things never works out perfectly for everybody."
Yeskie said he already has developed a rapport with Johnson.
"Jay allows for a lot of input," he said. "He has appreciated some of the things I've brought to him. After some of the ideas and questions I've had for him, it's been, 'Yeah, go do it.' It's been nice having a green light a lot of the time. Jay knows I've been successful formatting things in a certain way (at OSU). We've bounced ideas off one another that have been beneficial — for my development, his development and the team's development.
"We're all competitive. We want to win. He wants his guys to hit and defend. I want my guys to pitch and perform on that side of it. But we want to do it collectively. We've been having a lot of good, productive conversations. They won a lot of games before I was here, but like he said, we won a lot of games over my last 11 years (at OSU), too. So for the two of us, it's how can we find the best of both worlds and get those things to mesh and bind together?"
Yeskie believes he has also cultivated a relationship with Heeke.
"We're going to pow wow in a week or two over some ideas with regards to the stadium and some of the other elements to our program," he said. "It's, 'Let's shine some light on these areas and find out where we can make some things better.'"
The baseball offices are housed at Hi Corbett Field, the legendary ballpark that opened in 1937. With a current capacity of 9,500, it has been a spring training home for the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies and was the long-time venue for the Tucson Toros of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
"There are a lot of things here that lend itself to being beneficial for the player development side," Yeskie said. "The players can come in and we can knock out our meetings. The bullpen and indoor batting facillity are right here. Everything is convenient."
Tucson is a city of about a half-million people, with the metropolitan area home to nearly one million.
"But it's a college town, which I really like," Yeskie said. "For the size of the city, there are a lot of people invested in the university. I appreciate that feel, where you go about town and it doesn't get swallowed up by something else.
"In Los Angeles or the Bay Area or even Phoenix, there's something else on the docket. Here, I went to a basketball scrimmage the other day and they filled McKale Center."
Yeskie has begun to get a read on his pitching staff for the 2020 season.
"They're talented," he said. "It's getting them to see things from a collective effort. That was what I would say was my strength (at Oregon State) — getting those guys on the same page, getting them to pull and to play for one another.
"While you might want to go play for the Yankees or Dodgers one day — and we certainly want that for you as well — we need to have you play for one another right now to help that become more of a reality when the time comes."
Yeskie said even with all the positives of his new position at Arizona, it was difficult for him to leave Oregon State.
"Because of my feeling for all the people there," he said. "You build relationships over time. All the people who work there. All the fans who were so supportive. The coaches and people you had success with. Consider what we were able to accomplish together as a group. For a place that isn't supposed to be on the map from a baseball standpoint? We not only held our own, but we excelled in being able to develop those guys.
"And credit to those players. I recruited a lot of those guys. I'm really going to miss them. I still talk to a handful of them fairly regularly, but we're both off to new things now. When you're not going to see those faces but for a weekend a year across the diamond ... you still want what's best for those guys. Leaving all of that was the toughest thing for me."
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