Baseball and balance.
Growing up in Spring Grove, a small town in southeastern Minnesota, Todd Oakes single-mindedly chased his childhood dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player.
He advanced further than most; he starred in high school and at the University of Nebraska, and he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, reaching the Double A, before "literally running out of talent." Then he switched his goal to becoming a Major League Baseball coach.
Both times, however, Oakes realized his life was out of whack, his pursuit driven by selfish ambition and not Godly purpose. In 1998, he returned to Minnesota, accepting the role as the University of Minnesota's pitching coach. The job enabled him to be more involved with raising his three sons and introduced him to Minnesota FCA Coaches Ministry Director Ron Backes, who helped him learn Three Dimensional Coaching philosophy.
"I started to learn what it really means to be a Christian coach," Oakes said. "I would like to think the longer I coach, I spend less and less time with the Xs and Os."
In 2012, his 14th season with the Gophers, Oakes relished the balance in his life.
But he started to feel "lousy," he said.
In June, Oakes was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
"The last thing I thought I was going to hear was some kind of cancer or leukemia," Oakes said. "It blindsided myself and my family."
According to the National Institute of Health, the three-year survival rate is 25 percent.
Oakes spent 50 days in the hospital, ultimately needing 5.1 million healthy stem cells from his brother Gerald.
The treatments resulted in remission, which means his blood count returned to normal.
But 25 months later, leukemia returned.
Oakes faced another long hospital stay, though there was a 10-day stretch he does not remember.
"As I look back, I firmly, firmly believe that with everything I went through, I honestly believe the Holy Spirit took my body over in that hospital bed," Oakes said. "I don't remember one second of pain, or discomfort.
"It was the grace of God."
He regained remission for a second time and walked out of the hospital in December 2014.
But leukemia returned for a third time in September 2015.
"Here we go again," Oakes recalled thinking.
Naturally, Oakes said there have been dark moments, when he's wanted to "lash out at God."
But he always returns to a question he and his family embraced after his initial diagnosis.
"Typically, as human beings, we say, ‘Why me?’ Why is this happening to me?’ Maybe especially as Christians, we think we have God on our side and we think, ‘How can God let this happen to me? I’m a good man. I’ve planted good seeds along the way,' " Oakes said. "In 2012, my family and I decided to adopt the attitude of, ‘Why not me?’ "
His favorite Bible verse (Proverbs 3:5-6) keeps him centered - and focused.
Through the highs and lows, Oakes said he tries to "surrender every day to Him."
"It’s not what I want to do, what I want to accomplish," he said. "It’s what His plan is for me today."
Besides, his players and his sons are watching.
"Obviously it’s some adversity, but he’s willing to face it head on," Tyler Oakes said of his father's attitude. "He makes it easy. I think he gives people hope."
And in God's infinite wisdom, Todd Oakes can say something that he never could have imagined.
"It’s actually a blessing," he said. "I hope others can experience the level of love that having something like leukemia has brought me to because it’s been an amazing journey."
Photo credit: Oakes family