Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • May 14, 2021
ARCHIVES SUNDAY: Recalling The Day When The Oakland A’s Signed Kauai’s Tyler Yates

In this edition of “Archives Sunday,” we take you on the way-back machine to 1998.

That was the year when the Oakland Athletics drafted Koloa’s Tyler Yates.

The night he signed his first pro contract, while on a phone call to the family — father Gary, mother Janna and Tyler himself — you could tell they were absolutely ecstatic.

Looking back, I recall those mid-1990s days as a reporter for The Garden Island newspaper, sitting in the stands and watching Tyler and his brother Spencer — a catcher — play for Kauai High.

Tyler Yates instructed Kauai youth baseball players in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Fujimoto, The Garden Island newspaper).

Knowing he became a major leaguer, lots of people nowadays figure Tyler was a dominant right-handed pitcher back then, but what people don’t realize is that Kauai has some excellent baseball at all levels and the Kauai Interscholastic Federation — despite having only three teams — is highly competitive.

Yates, of course, was a very good pitcher back then, but, if I recall, he only went 4-3 his senior year. With some minor control problems, he wasn’t mowing people down, but he did a ton of damage with his big bat — hitting third or cleanup. The talk back then was more about Tyler’s size (6 foot 4) and excellent mechanics, and there was no doubt in many people’s minds that he was going to go far.

I only mention Tyler’s above-average won-loss record because a year or so later a Waimea High kid, John Ruiz, put up something like a 10-1 mark with an ERA under 2.00. He ended up playing in college for Tennessee.

Both Yates brothers went on to play under Joey Estrella at UH Hilo. It was not a winning program by any stretch of the imagination, but it was known as a place where — because of the coaching — an excellent place for players to hone their skills for the next level. It was a baseball player factory in a sense.

And Tyler flourished, catching the eye of the majors. And now his brother, Kirby, is carrying on the family legacy, pitching for the San Diego Padres in his seventh major league season. So far, during this no-fans-in-attendance, COVID-19 2020 season that is just underway, he has one appearance — a three-up, three-down ninth inning in a 5-1 home win over Arizona on Saturday.

So far, in his career with the Tampa Bay Rays (2014 and ’15), New York Yankees (2016), and Padres (2017 through now), the 33-year-old Kirby is 12-16 with a 3.39 ERA and 55 saves in 286 games and 279 innings pitched. In 2019, he had 41 saves and made the National League All-Star team. He also has no hits in two at-bats.

In five major league seasons for the New York Mets (2004), Atlanta Braves (2006 and ’07) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2008 and ’09), Tyler — now 42 — compiled a 12-17 record with a .414 earned-run average in 239 games and 248 innings pitched. He also had four saves and had one hit in 12 at-bats.

Tyler’s Kauai High battery mate, Spenver, did not pursue pro baseball. He is, however, the Kauai High head coach. I caught up with him and wrote a March 23 article about his role as the Red Raiders’ coach. It was one of the last articles of my 40-year career as a newspaper journalist before being furloughed March 26, starting this website May 5 and taking a voluntary, world health-crisis fueled layoff June 29.

So, for your reading pleasure, below is a 1998 column I wrote about Tyler Yates when he signed with the Oakland A’s:

———————–

Sports to Ponder

Tyler Yates: Cultivated Here, Picked By MLB

By Nick Abramo

The Garden Island Newspaper (from 1998)

t was just yesterday, or so it seems, that Tyler Yates was a bright-eyed 12-year-old kid pitching for a Koloa Youth Baseball Association team.

Yup, it was just yesterday, or so it seems, that Tyler Yates was working his way up in the Kauai High School baseball team’s ranks, pitching and pounding the ball in leading the Red Raiders to the championship.

Yessir, it was just yesterday (wasn’t it?) that Tyler Yates was pitching his way into the University of Hawaii Hilo record books as a freshman reliever.

As a matter of fact, it was just yesterday (OK, would you settle for two Saturdays ago) that Tyler Yates (all 6’4” of him) went to Hanapepe Ball Park to watch kid brother Kirby play and father Gary coach the Koloa Athletics in the West Kauai Bronco Division title game.

And you know (time is going by so fast if you haven’t noticed) it was just last night — ohhhh at about 8:30 p.m., give or take a few hours (as if time really matters in this case) — that Tyler Yates was signing a pro baseball contract.

Ohhh yes indeed.

Now, if we intend to keep up with the times, we need to refer to Tyler Yates as a player in the Oakland Athletics’ organization. He signed on the proverbial dotted line lat night at his home with scout Eric Kubota.

How far does the farm system go down? Oakland Athletics — all the way to the Koloa Athletics. Hmmm. Makes you wonder.

Yates joins Waimea’si Ken Morimoto, who is in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization, as the two Kauai baseball players in the pro ranks. A few years ago, Kalaheo’s Larry Ephan was with the Texas Rangers’ organization before dropping out.

Yates will report to the Phoenix Athletics in the Rookie League.

“This is a big step in my life,” Yates said after signing the contract. “My ultimate goal is to play in the major leagues. I feel I have a decent fastball and a good change-up and I have a lot of determination to do better. I need to work on my curve and my slider and my control a bit, and working my legs more into pitches to get that extra snap.”

Yates knows the coaches will be able to help with the things that need work, but believes it will be up to him to “work hard enough” to accomplish his goal.

“I’m excited, but I can’t get too excited,” he added.

Yates and family members sat down to dinner with Kubota last night. Janna, Tyler’s mom, served fresh ahi, salad, teriyaki chicken, cheesecake and fresh mangoes.

Janna was sure to mention the salad fixing came from the Koloa Farmer’s Market and the mangoes came from the Westside.

Go to mention those great Kauai products. You bet. Great Kauai products.

That’s what this story is about, you see.

Tyler Yates is one of them. Planted, grown and cultivated with tender care by family, friends, schools, leagues and other support systems.

And “picked” by Major League Baseball.

———————–

 

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