Tyler Yates remembers himself as a pitcher who picked up a ball and just threw during his time at UH-Hilo, where he sharpened his rough edges enough to chase his dream of making it to the major leagues.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander didn’t have glamorous stats (2-4 with a 5.17 ERA) when he was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 23rd round in 1998. But he was a block of clay and full of potential and played five years in the majors for three teams from 2004 to 2009.
Yates was plagued by elbow trouble, and in his last season in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Pirates he required a third Tommy John surgery. He retired with no regrets.
In a Curious case of where are they now?, Yates, 42, is back home on Kauai as a police officer and takes joy in the success of others, especially his younger brother Kirby Yates, the San Diego Padres closer.
Tyler got out of the game just as salaries were skyrocketing. Kirby, 33, is a free agent after the 2021 season and will be a test case as a dominant relief pitcher in his age 34 season.
“I always look back with no regrets,” Tyler said. “I wish I could have done better. My time was really stressful. I had a lot of fun.
“I follow my brother more and take joy in that.”
What money he did make in the big leagues, Tyler saved and invested in land property on Kauai. He’s building a house, and it’s a good thing that his brother Spencer works in construction.
Spencer, who also played at UHH as a catcher, was recently hired as Kauai High’s coach. Tyler will serve as a pitching coach.
Spencer’s son, Nainoa Kane-Yates, played his freshman year at Hilo High before moving back to the Garden Island. Kane-Yates will play ball at Yavapai College, the same Arizona junior college that Kirby went to.
What’s Tyler’s MLB scouting report on his nephew?
“A lot of kids have potential,” Tyler said. “It’s how hard they want to work and if they can get away from the island.”
Tyler and his wife Liesel have two children Kamryn, 12, and Isaiah, 8, and they both have taken up the family sport of baseball. Actually, Kamryn plays softball, and Isaiah plays baseball.
Kirby turned his career around when he picked up and mastered the split-fingered fastball from former New York Yankees teammate Masahiro Tanaka.
The Padres closer had an 0-5 record in 2019 but a 1.19 ERA in 60 2/3 innings and struck out 101. He had 41 saves out of 44 opportunities.
Tyler recalled back around 2007 he experimented with the splitter but couldn’t get the hang of it.
“When I threw it, it was really good but it wasn’t consistent,” he said. “When it wasn’t good, it was a hittable pitch. Then I struggled with my mechanics and hurt my elbow for a second time and had surgery.”
Tyler is still grateful to former UHH coach Joey Estrella and pitching coach Kallen Miyataki, now the Vulcans coach.
“I can’t thank coach E enough for giving me a scholarship and playing ball for him,” Tyler said. “Coach Kai was the one coach I could go to when times were tough. He really taught me about mechanics and routine. After I signed with the A’s, I came back to UHH and we would hang out and I’d teach him the new stuff I learned, and we’d work on new drills to figure things out.”
Miyataki remembers Tyler as a late bloomer who put in the work.
“He had a lot of potential and grew into what he became,” Miyataki said. “Like a lot of local kids, he was a late bloomer. But he would go and get after it.”
Previous to UHH, the longest he’d been away from home was a month. Suddenly, he was on his own for an extended period, tasked with responsibilities to take care of himself.
“It was about growing up and finding your way in life,” he said. “I had to buckle down and get work done, getting in the weight room.”
Out on duty, he’s a familiar face to lawbreakers. Whenever he catches a speeding car, it’s more likely than not that someone will recognize the 6-4 former pitcher.
“But it doesn’t mean that they’ll get away with it,” he said.
But these days, he’s more comfortable to be known as Kirby Yates’ brother.