Every day of his kindergarten year, Ernie Yake walked into school sporting a full baseball uniform with a rotation of matching belts for the jersey of the day.
Since then, the redshirt sophomore on Gonzaga’s baseball team has added some variety to his closet, but still spends most of his time in his kindergarten dress of choice.
This is in large part thanks to the former Eastern Washington University baseball player he looked up to from the beginning — his father Vern Yake.
“He’s my biggest influence in everything,” Ernie said. “He helped me fall in love with the game and never forced it on me.”
The adoration of the game is what baseball was always about for the elder Yake as he completed his own baseball career, earning All-Pac-10 honors and coaching Ernie through high school and Legion ball.
“It was always real important to me growing up,” Vern said. “And so then when I had a son, I just kind of threw balls at him when he was really young and made it fun for him.”
The sophomore standout led the Zags last season with a team-best 76 hits, 32 runs and 25 RBIs. The shortstop was also named to the All-West Coast Conference Second Team, WCC All-Freshman Team and to the Collegiate Baseball Freshmen All-America Team.
This year, Ernie’s offensive performance has been noteworthy, championing 30 hits with a .323 batting average.
His stats not only reflect who fans and his teammates in the dugout see him as, but also the role he aspires for himself on the diamond.
“A leader, picking up guys when they’re down,” Ernie said, looking out at the Patterson Baseball Complex after a three-run walk-off homer by Daniel Fredrickson with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, winning the series on Sunday against University of San Diego.
“Keep the game fun a little bit, mess around when the time is right.”
To celebrate a victory, the Zags have what Ernie doesn’t want to call a dance party, but is a dance party, in the team’s clubhouse to EDM music he doesn’t listen to.
“It’s like that techno music,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s called. It’s just hyped and all smiles in there.”
And while most of the team prepares for games with similar playlists, Ernie takes a different route, sitting back in his Buick LaCrosse, or as he calls it, his “grandpa car.”
“He sits there in his car and listens to his country music and he’s just him,” Jack Machtolf, his best friend and teammate said. “He doesn’t get all super pumped up, he’s just ready. That’s just his thing.”
That, and Red Bulls. Before every game, Ernie and the team stop off at a gas station to snag their caffeinated good luck charms as a sort of pregame ritual.
Ernie credits his success on the field, not to Red Bulls, but to the active mental work he does.
“Keeping a positive mindset and just staying strong in my head,” Ernie attributes as his secret to success. “Not letting failure get in my mind.”
His ability to stay strong with his bat and stay confident and consistent is what he is most proud of. The people around him say they’re well aware of that consistency.
“He’s one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet,” Machtolf said. “He’s a beast on the field, then being with him he’s so calm. Everything is just slowed down for him. And with me, I’m always anxious and I need to get stuff done at all times, so being with him takes me away from all of that, it’s a perfect fit for a friendship.”
The best friends are not only teammates, but housemates and classmates, spending upward of 18 hours a day together, Machtolf said.
Even when the two don’t have to be together, like in one of the four classes they share, they choose to. They hop in Ernie’s “grandpa car” and go for trips up north.
“Me and Jack go on a lot of drives,” Ernie said. “Just to clear our minds I guess — get away from school, which is nice.”
When the sports management and psychology student isn’t preparing for class, or going fishing or golfing on a nice day, he’s working toward his goal — playing professional baseball.
Ernie’s commitment to his routines for success on the field impressed his father, especially when he was working to be recruited for college ball. Ernie would go to baseball tournaments and hear back from college coaches telling him they wanted to see him run faster and get stronger. So he got to work.
“His whole senior year he got up at 5 in the morning before school,” Vern said. “Then he did practice after school. So he takes those little life lessons and makes them happen through his daily work.”
Arcelia Martin is the managing editor. Follow her on Twitter: @arcelitamartin.