LIHU‘E — There have been 350-plus brother combinations to appear in Major League Baseball. The Yates brothers of Koloa hope to soon add one more pair to that list. The feat would be an impressive one for a game that can be traced back to 1869 and has seen thousands of players suit up for our nation’s pastime.
Baseball. It has been said that it is the only game where the defense has the ball. Often times it is the pitcher who has that ball and controls the pace and outcome of a game.
Enter the Yates’.
Tyler Yates, 35, and Kirby Yates, 25, both grew up in Koloa, both attended Kaua‘i High School and both pitched professionally. Tyler attended the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 23rd round of the 1998 draft.
From that point, Tyler went on to play in the big leagues for the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates from 2004 to 2009, where he appeared in 239 games and posted a 12-17 record with a 5.12 ERA.
Kirby was drafted from Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz. by the Boston Red Sox in the 26th round of the 2005 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft and now resides with the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization. He spent last season with the class AA Montgomery Biscuits, where he went 4-2 with an impressive 2.65 ERA and 94 strikeouts to just 39 walks in 68 inning pitched.
Even though the boys have crisscrossed the country pursuing their dream, they have returned home to help Kaua‘i’s young pitchers.
Tyler is entering his first year as pitching coach for the Kaua‘i High School Red Raiders and brings with him experience, knowledge and a willingness to teach that stemmed from off-season lessons directed toward his brother.
“I think I kind of paved the way for (Kirby),” Tyler said. “I learned as I went through the minor league system, and every year I came home and taught him everything I learned that year.”
Tyler taught, and Kirby listened, showing improvement and dominating numbers as he has progressed his way through the minor league system. With Tyler’s lessons guiding him, and the ability to dominate hitters, Kirby hopes to secure a spot on the Rays’ roster this spring.
“I am going to big league camp,” Kirby said. “I have a very, very outside chance that I make the big league team, but in all likeliness I (will) go to AAA and try to get a call up throughout the year. Who knows what can happen.”
Kirby will be flying back to Florida to report for spring training later this month, but being 4,600 miles from home doesn’t rattle the MLB hopeful.
“I have just tried to have the same mentality everywhere I have gone, from high school to college and the pros,” Kirby said. “It has always been the same thing (Tyler) has been drilling in my head for the last 10 years — you just gotta attack hitters. Hitters get better and more patient, and he always tells me ‘you have to get ahead and put people away.’ I think that’s why I had some success so far.”
Having a brother in the big leagues is an advantage for a young player trying to find his way through the distracting gauntlet of high school, college and even minor league baseball — something that was never lost on Kirby.
“I had a lot of it instilled in my brain,” Kirby said. “I credit him for that. He has told me a couple times that I was going to run into funks and when I have, he is the first person I call and he has always had an answer. Not a lot of people have that.”
Tyler has now come full circle and is presiding over a young Red Raider pitching staff trying to benefit from the same tutelage he has given to his younger brother. For a pitcher who has had success at the highest possible level of baseball, Tyler knows the importance of giving back to young players trying to find their way.
“(Coaching) was something that I thought about, and gave it a try this year,” Tyler said. “I think the kids were a little shell shocked at first, but I think I broke through the barrier and they are really responding. … It was just an opportunity, I wanted to see what I can do with the knowledge I have and if the kids would respond to it. More so, I feel like I was given this gift of playing baseball, and I feel like I need to give it back and give something back to the community, and this is the way I can do it.”
Kirby knows just how important that knowledge and mentoring can be for a young athlete.
“When I was in high school, I had a lot of the knowledge,” Kirby said. “Not all of it. I gained some of my own, but I was a step ahead of everybody just because I had him, so for these kids to have him giving them a chance, I am excited for them. Honestly, it will be exciting to see what they will be in two years.”
Tyler’s professional playing career my have ended, but it is the trail that he blazed to the peak of the baseball mountain that lives on, not only in the minds and arms of young Kaua‘i High School pitchers, but in the journey of his brother.
The only thing left is for Kirby to follow in big brothers footsteps.