As a high school pitcher from Carson in the capital city of Nevada, Nate Yeskie had his eye on several destinations to play college ball. Thanks to a relationship between former Texas A&M head coach Mark Johnson and his high school head coach, A&M was one of those dream schools.
Self admittedly his pitching wasn’t quite up to par with A&M’s standards at that time, but Yeskie now will get his shot in Aggieland as the baseball team’s associate head coach under new skipper Jim Schlossnagle.
“I appreciate the college town atmosphere and the people,” Yeskie said during an introductory press conference Wednesday at Blue Bell Park. “I think anywhere that you go, you win with people. It was just something that here, 30-some years later has now presented itself, so I’m pretty excited about it.”
Yeskie settled on UNLV as a college pitcher and went 21-12 with 246 strikeouts in 42 appearances. He was a ninth-round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins in 1996 and reached the double-A level before moving into coaching.
He’s put his name on the baseball map as a coach, serving 16 years as an assistant including 11 at Oregon State, where he helped the Beavers make four College World Series appearances and win a national title in 2018.
In 2017, Yeskie was named the D1Baseball.com assistant coach of the year and was twice named the Collegiate Baseball national pitching coach of the year. He has served as the associate head coach and pitching coach at Arizona over the last two seasons.
“As a coach, he was always one of those guys who always got the best out of you, and that’s what I loved as a player,” said K.J. Harrison, a minor-leaguer who played for Yeskie at Oregon State. Harrison, who plays for the double-A Harrisburg Senators of the Washington Nationals’ organization, also is the brother of A&M shortstop Kalae Harrision. “That’s why I love playing for him, because of that fact. He always got the best out of the pitchers, and he’d always fire you up in those moments that you needed a little push.”
Kenny Harrison, the father of the Harrison brothers, played professional baseball and has served as a coach and scout for the New York Yankees. From the start, Yeskie’s coaching ability always impressed him.
“The biggest thing is the discipline of the pitchers and the command and going after batters,” Kenny Harrison said. “They never were afraid to go after batters. Nate, to me, what I saw was they love to attack the zone a lot and get ahead of counts a lot and they just battled. Every pitcher battles, and you could tell from his staff at Arizona it was the same type of guys. They just battle through everything, always competing and always owning the inside of the plate.”
The proof is in the numbers. In his first season at Arizona, Yeskie dropped the pitching staff’s ERA from 6.21 the previous year to 3.87. The staff’s walks and hits per innings improved from 1.75 to 1.30, and opponents’ batting average dropped from .287 to .212.
Kalae Harrison and his younger brother Kaikea, a 2022 A&M baseball recruit, both met Yeskie when Oregon State held a satellite camp in Hawaii and began recruiting K.J. Harrison. The family helped introduce Yeskie to one of his favorite foods: meat jun. Yeskie said “addicted” was the right word for his love of the Hawaiian dish.
Years later, Kenny Harrison said he was thrilled at the opportunity for Yeskie to coach two more of his sons. The Aggies’ current starting shortstop loves the idea as well, Kenny Harrison said.
“[Kalae Harrison] was excited,” Kenny Harrison said. “Just the fact that the whole staff was put tougher, in general, he was very excited about all of that as well. To add Nate to the staff, knowing his history and his background, for the program and everyone in Aggieland, we were excited and Kalae was as well. Nate is a great dude, probably one of the best people I’ve met.”
Yeskie is part of a new coaching staff that has received rave reviews from outside the program. The staff includes hitting coach Michael Earley from Arizona State and recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain from LSU. A&M outfielder Dylan Rock, a Texas-San Antonio transfer, said the staff is one of the reasons he was sold on playing for the Aggies.
“Oh my goodness. It’s crazy,” Rock said after the Brazos Valley Bomber’s game Tuesday. “They’re the biggest names in baseball right now. [Schlossnagle’s] got guys coming from all schools that have experience with winning championships. I think this coaching staff’s really going to know how to win a lot of ballgames.”
Mizzouri transfer pitcher Trey Dillard said the addition of Yeskie was the piece that put him over the top in selecting A&M to finish his college career.
“Man, it’s a damn good staff. I’ll tell you that much,” Kenny Harrison said.
Earley, who coached hitters at Arizona State who faced Yeskie’s pitchers from both Oregon State and Arizona, said he is glad to be sharing a dugout with the veteran coach.
“He obviously had his guys who were the dudes that are supposed to be good, but you saw him develop guys through the years, too,” Earley said, “and those guys have been doing a really good job. You know when you went against Coach Yeskie, you had to have your stuff together, because he’s always prepared. It’s always good to compete against him, but I’m really glad not to.”
NOTES — Thursday is the scholarship renewal deadline for NCAA Division I baseball, putting coaches in a new situation thanks to a later MLB draft set for June 11-13. If there is a chance a player might return to school after the draft, the program must issue him a scholarship by Thursday. That includes players who can take an extra season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If a player decides to turn pro, his scholarship can be used for another player. Schlossnagle said coaches asked to push the renewal deadline back, but it was denied. “The month of July is going to be insane between the portal and the draft being so late. Frankly, the NCAA has put us in a really tough position.” ... A&M reliever Mason Ornales has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal after his scholarship was not renewed by the new coaching staff, Ornales said. He went 3-2 record with a 5.11 ERA in 37 innings as a reliever last season, striking out 42 and walking 12.