Yale Athletics

It has been more than one month since Yale’s baseball team abruptly ended its season with a game against Jacksonville University due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final game served as an impromptu senior day for the Elis. One of the players suiting up in the Blue and White for one last time was second baseman Dai Dai Otaka ’20. The Michigan native has been a staple of Yale’s middle infield since he won the starting job for shortstop in his first year. In his last full season of play with the Bulldogs, Otaka led the Ivy League in double plays with 41 in 2019.

“They were a really great class of seniors,” said catcher Jake Gehri ’22. “They taught me to never take anything for granted and to play everyday like it could be your last. Whether it’s practice or game three of the Ivy League championship.”

Otaka’s numbers speak for themselves about his talent on the field, but his knowledge of the game can be seen off the diamond as well. Yale’s second baseman runs a Twitter account, with the handle @dai_squared, that focuses on the intricacies of infield play. Using videos and clips of infielders at various levels, Otaka breaks down technique to give both players and coaches visuals of optimal defensive efficiency. 

The account boasts more than 6,000 followers, and also serves as a platform for Otaka to post his own ideas, as well as interact with other users to gather feedback and continue learning. More recently, @dai_squared has been uploading potential home drills for aspiring baseball players looking to improve their glove skills during quarantine.

“I am actually pursuing a career in coaching once I am done playing baseball,” Otaka said. “I love the game and at this point, I don’t ever want to step away from it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have played for some awesome coaches who have talked to me about their journey, and have guided me in my decision to follow the coaching route.”

One of the main inspirations for Otaka’s Twitter account was former Yale associate head coach and mentor to Otaka, Tucker Frawley, who now serves as the Minnesota Twins field coordinator. Frawley runs a similar Twitter account, with the handle @INFchatter that has almost 22 thousand followers. He encouraged Otaka to use Twitter as a playing and coaching journal and as a means to get his name out into the baseball world.

Otaka may know that he wants to be a coach in the near future, but there is still uncertainty about his collegiate career going into next year. Otaka is just one of a group of Yale seniors who are considering transferring to continue playing. While many players have already reached out to potential colleges, others are having trouble planning. Some seniors had accepted job opportunities or had applied to graduate schools assuming that collegiate baseball was no longer going to be a part of their lives.

With uncertainty still surrounding the format of the 2020 MLB Draft, questions about roster size limits, and over 200 players in the DI transfer portal collegiate baseball players are in a fluid situation that could shape the game for years to come. While the NCAA Division I Council voted to grant an extra season of eligibility to spring athletes, the Ivy League announced that it will not amend the conference’s existing eligibility guidelines, preventing spring athletes from competing as graduate students in the Ancient Eight and making things even more complicated for Eli seniors.

Yale’s seniors looking to transfer, however, can look to Benny Wanger ’19 for hope. Wanger transferred to USC after graduating Yale to play for the Trojans after missing his senior season with a hamstring injury. The Massachusetts native was slashing .410/.500/.564 playing first base and pitched 6.1 scoreless innings as a relief pitcher before the untimely end of the season.

“I’m very aware how devastated the seniors must feel with the sudden end of their senior season,” Wanger said. “The thought of my baseball career ending on that note was sobering. Fortunately for me, it didn’t. However, I know that for the majority of the seven Yale baseball seniors this year, their competitive careers will be cut short by something completely out of their control.”

When asked by News for advice for Yale seniors looking to transfer, Wanger compiled a list of tips for his former teammates. The first piece of Wanger offered was to say “yes” to everything as a means to make new friends. Another way to form a core group of friends, according to Wagner, is to take advantage of the unique position of being a graduate student-athlete. Graduate transfers who are not athletes will enjoy listening to the differences in routines and undergraduate students will keep you feeling young.

The USC two-way player also stressed the importance of transfers choosing an interesting graduate program and see the move as not only an opportunity to keep playing, but also continue learning without worrying about grades.

The transition is not easy but it is also only for a year. Wanger says to transfers that they might feel excluded from their team at moments, but that with time that feeling will go away. The key for Wanger was spending time with each of his teammates: He advised that while you shouldn’t waste your limited time with people you don’t enjoy being around, you also never know who might become your new best friends.

But perhaps the most important piece of advice Wanger gives his former teammates is to enjoy their time as transfers. The graduate transfer move involves a new school and probably a new city and state with a lot to offer. For most, Wanger says, the transfer year will be the last opportunity to play competitive sports and savoring that experience should be the most important priority.

For Wanger, however, his time at USC does not represent the end of his competitive career. Wanger will soon be able to call himself an Olympic athlete when he suits up for Israel at the Tokyo games.

“When the team went out to play in Germany and Italy during the Summer, it was one of the most unique experiences for me as a baseball player,” Wanger said. “It was baseball in its purest form. Stats didn’t matter in the slightest, and the scores didn’t matter as long as we came back to the hotel with a win. When we qualified for the Olympics, I don’t think the impact of the achievement had sunk in to me. We are the first Israeli team sport to qualify for the Games since 1976 in soccer.”

Wanger is disappointed in the delay of the Olympic games, but recognizes that the COVID-19 crisis represents something bigger. He hopes that the 2021 Tokyo Olympic games will be a worldwide celebration of overcoming the pandemic and can’t wait to compete.

Stateside, Wanger is not sure about his future regarding baseball. The former Eli is looking to sign a pro deal, but with the draft changes and pro league shutdowns due to the COVID-19 crisis, Wanger has not ruled out transferring again or staying at USC.

Wanger pitched the first perfect game in Belmont Hill High School history.

Eugenio Garza Garcia | eugenio.garzagarcia@yale.edu