MINNEAPOLIS — Glen Perkins has known Todd Oakes for years, but it wasn’t until Perkins became a professional baseball player that his relationship with the Golden Gophers pitching coach truly grew.
Oakes helped Perkins become the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and a first-round draft pick during his time at the University of Minnesota. Once Perkins moved on to a career with the Minnesota Twins, though, he continued to spend time with Oakes. They’d play catch during Perkins’ offseasons and have had plenty of conversations about baseball.
"I’ve probably learned more and gotten more out of him from the time I left there until now," Perkins said. "He’s been an invaluable resource, not only when I was in college but after I got done when I got into pro ball."
So just like everyone else, Perkins was floored when Oakes was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in June of 2012. But also like everyone else, Perkins was confident in Oakes’ ability to fight the disease.
"It was tough. I don’t think anyone had any doubts about how he would do handling it and how he would turn out," Perkins said. "Seeing him at his weakest and at his (most gaunt), I guess, was tough. But then each time I saw him after that he looked better. He’s to the point now where he’s probably in better spirits and better shape than he was even before he got diagnosed."
Oakes is now in complete remission after receiving a bone marrow transplant from his brother back in September of 2012, and he returned to the Gophers baseball as the pitching coach team last April. Now, Oakes has been nominated for the Minnesota chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) Man of the Year. As part of his effort to raise money, Oakes has vowed to "Strikeout Cancer."
That theme resonated with Perkins, who earned his first All-Star Game appearance last year and finished the 2013 season with a career-high 77 strikeouts. So in order to help Oakes’ fundraising efforts, Perkins vowed to donate $100 for each strikeout he recorded in the month of April.
"I’ve really developed a great relationship with Glen and his wife Alisha, and that relationship has grown stronger since Glen left the Gopher baseball program," Oakes said. "He’s turned into a great friend and I’m blessed to have him help with this campaign."
Perkins finished April with 16 strikeouts, adding up to a total of $1,600. But he upped his donation to $2,500, with the Minnesota Twins and the players’ union each matching that amount for a total of $7,500.
"I think my part’s going to be a small part," Perkins said. "I think he’s done pretty well with what they’ve done."
Perkins said the winner of the LLS Man of the Year campaign is whoever can raise the most money. The Twins closer did his part to help Oakes, though the donations can be given through May 16 at Oakes’ fundraising page.
"I’m not doing this to receive a plaque that says ‘Man of the Year,’" Oakes said. "But if this brings awareness or the funds for research to help one more person hear that word ‘remission’, that’s why I’m committed to this campaign."
In Perkins’ eyes, there’s no one more deserving of winning the award than Oakes — but he knows his pitching coach wouldn’t be terribly fond of being in the spotlight.
"His goal initially was to raise $1 less than the winner, because he doesn’t like recognition; he doesn’t like notoriety. He just wants to do his job," Perkins said. "I think he’s excited that he’s beating cancer. I don’t think he feels like he deserves anything. There’s a lot of people that have gone through it, people that have beat it, people that haven’t. He doesn’t want to be different than anyone else.
"I would like to, if he needs $2 to win, I’m going to make sure he gets two more dollars."