College Baseball: Atkinson Resigns as Blazers Skipper
‘Life Changing Offer’: First Year Coach Lured Away by Cincinnati Reds
By Jordan Nailon
When Cody Atkinson was hired as head coach of Centralia College baseball back at the end of July he immediately made a move to make his mark on the program.
Atkinson switched over the logo on the team hats from the traditional squashed-C logo they’d borrowed from the major league team in Cincinnati over to the old school block-C sported by the major league team in Cleveland.
Now, less than six months after he put his autograph on the dotted line to take charge of the Trailblazers, Atkinson will be switching out his new block-C Trailblazers lid for an authentic squashed-C hat from the organization that made it famous — The Cincinnati Reds
Atkinson, 30, has in his possession a contract on Wednesday night that made him the first-ever Hitting Assessment and Run Production coach across all levels of the Reds’ organization. On Tuesday he’d already begun making phone calls to high school players from his first recruiting class and he gathered this year’s group of Blazers together in order to break the news.
“No part of this has been easy. I’m a grown man with tears in my eyes telling my team last night,’ said Atkinson.
He noted that this was not the first offer from a professional team he’s received in the last few months and the decision to accept the position is not one that he took lightly. Those four other offers included the position of hitting coach for the Reds’ AAA affiliate but Atkinson said things just didn’t feel quite right.
“The last organization that called, the Reds, I told them that unless it was a life changing opportunity they didn’t need to keep calling me,” said Atkinson.
Two days later, the Reds came calling again and the deal proved too sweet for Atkinson to pass up.
In his new position at the helm of the Reds’ offensive strategy Atkinson will be able to live near his hometown in the greater-Seattle area while flying around the country as needed, on the Reds’ dime, in order to catch up with different organizational affiliates as they play out their various seasons.
Atkinson noted that former UW Husky standout and current third baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jake Lamb, is a big reason his name wound up on the radar of so many organizations from Major League Baseball. Lamb became familiar with Atkinson when he played for the Chaffey Construction select baseball program as a high school player. That elite team is coached by Atkinson’s father, Ray, and Cody got his start as an assistant with the team.
According to Atkinson, Lamb passed along a powerpoint presentation that he’d made on the art of hitting and it began to circulate in big league batting cages and front offices.
“This is a job in which I get to work with the big league coaching staff very exclusively and I get to be a part of big league spring training and long trips,” Atkinson said. “They were talking to a lot of big name people who probably deserve it a lot more than me based on resume.”
Atkinson is sensitive to the fact that the move puts the Blazers program in flux again after former head coach Jake LeDuc left the program last summer. This time around, though, the start of the season looms just over a month away. He says he will be hanging around the program from now until he departs for Spring Training with the Reds on Feb. 8 in order to help in any way he can.
“I don’t expect people to be happy. I don’t. This opportunity was the best opportunity I’d been given at that time. It just so happens that six months later I got the next best opportunity in my whole life,” Atkinson explained. “All that I would ask is that if someone is thinking about this thing that they think about this from my shoes for a second. If you were young and the big leagues came calling, for whatever that is in your career, would you be able to turn it down?”
Assistant coach Kawika Emsley-Pai has been tabbed as Interim Head Coach by Centralia College for the 2019 season. Emsley-Pai played for Lewis and Clark State in college and spent six years as a catcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He is also Atkinson’s best friend from childhood.
“At the end of the day my best friend since I was eight years old is stepping in. I honestly believe he walks into this job as the best coach in the NWAC’s without a doubt,” said Atkinson. “I have never coached with a better on the field coach than him. I think if you asked any of our players they would say the same thing.”
Centralia College Athletic Director Bob Peters noted that Emsley-Pai has been hired on an interim basis and his position with the team will be evaluated at the end of the season.
“To me it was just the smoothest transition possible. What are we, 35 days from our first game?” said Peters. “You throw somebody a curveball like that so late in the game and you’ve got to react.”
Atkinson expressed his gratitude toward Peters and Robert Cox, vice president of student services at Centralia College, for both extending him the opportunity to join the Trailblazers team and then helping to facilitate as seamless of a transition as possible upon his unexpected departure.
“I’m extremely grateful for the way to Bob and Robert for the way they’ve handled this,” said Atkinson.
Although Atkinson will finish with a record of 0-0 in Centralia there is one stat to help define his time in Centerville. In November, the Blazers signed 17 new recruits, which is the largest early signing class in NWAC history and points to the positivity that has been surrounding the program since Atkinson took over.
Atkinson said he is hopeful that his departure will not cause a mass exodus of current players or incoming recruits. He noted that letter of intent signees in the NWAC are prohibited from jumping ship to other NWAC schools but are allowed to sign on with teams in the NCAA, NAIA, or junior colleges from outside the region.
“This is a baseball town and they deserve a great baseball team,” Atkinson said.
Practices for the spring season began on Jan. 14 and the Blazers are slated to play their first game on Feb. 23 at Wheeler Field against Shoreline.