The ink had hardly dried on Cody Atkinson’s contract to coach Centralia College baseball before he began shaking hands and cataloging new names and faces around the Twin Cities.
Officially hired last Sunday, Atkinson immediately began making the rounds at Ed Wheeler Field in order to catch a glimpse of the talent pool at the American Legion “AAA” state tournament taking place at the Trailblazers home field. As Atkinson soon learned, news travels quickly in local baseball circles and the introductory interactions have followed him away from the field as well.
Not that Atkinson is complaining.
“This is a community with a lot of pride. You can really tell that they care about baseball, about the direction of the program,” said Atkinson. “People have been coming up to me and my wife at the grocery store, everywhere we go, and welcoming us. It’s been a great first couple of days.”
Atkinson, 29, was hired to replace former head coach Jake LeDuc who tendered his resignation in early July. He comes to Centralia College with 12 years of assistant coaching experience that includes an NWAC championship at Everett Community College and two years at the Division I level.
A 2007 graduate of Bothell High School, Atkinson played five years of college athletics before taking up coaching full time. Straight out of high school he headed to Occidental College in Los Angeles in order to play quarterback for the Tigers’ football team. After a year he realized that his true passion was on the baseball diamond and so he returned to the Pacific Northwest to attend Everett Community College, where he played shortstop and third base. After his two years with the Trojans, Atkinson took off across the country to play Division I baseball at Centenary College in Louisiana, where he patrolled right field while continuing to deploy the potent bat that had become his calling card throughout his playing career. For his fifth and final year of college athletics, Atkinson again returned to the Pacific Northwest, this time to patrol the diamond for Corban University in 2012.
Atkinson’s father, Ray Atkinson, is the longtime coach of Chaffey Construction, a premier summer baseball club out of the Seattle area. The elder Atkinson is also the founder of the amatuer Northwest Bandits baseball club. Thanks to his familial connections, Cody Atkinson was able to begin dipping his toes in the coaching waters during his college summer breaks.
After completing his trip around the collegiate merry-go-round as a ballplayer, Atkinson wasted no time beginning his journey as a college coach. Atkinson noted that the same day he played his final game for Corban, he pulled on an Everett Community College t-shirt and began beating the bushes for talent as an assistant coach and head recruiter. He wound up spending four years as a coach at ECC and managed to collect an NWAC championship ring in his first season on the staff.
In 2017 Atkinson returned to the Division I ranks, this time donning a coaches pullover, clipboard and stopwatch as a member of the University of West Virginia staff. He calls that year coaching in the Big 12 “the biggest opportunity” of his life.
“That experience made me who I am today and tells me what we need to do to be successful here (at CC),” said Atkinson.
Following his season at UWV, Atkinson moved on to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, another Division I program that competes in the Western Athletic Conference against schools like Seattle University. Last season, UTRGV even managed to upset a University of Washington team that later wound up qualifying for the College World Series in Omaha.
Atkinson said he has been keeping an eye out for head coaching jobs in the NWAC for two years and he jumped at the chance to take over a Centralia College program that has appeared to be on the cusp of turning the corner toward prosperity for several seasons now.
“I’m so excited. It is going to be so much fun,” said Atkinson.
Thanks to his travels as both a coach and player, in addition to connections established through his father, Atkinson has developed a wide network of allies across the college baseball landscape. He believes he is the only current NWAC head coach with Division I coaching experience and he anticipates that those relationships he has cultivated will quickly pay dividends right here in Centralia.
“That’s going to be a big deal for us in recruiting,” said Atkinson, who expects to be able to pick up kickbacks from Division I programs from across the country thanks to his array of connections.
Atkinson says that those highly touted imports will be brought in selectively in order to address specific needs on the Trailblazers roster. However, he is adamant that the bulk of the roster will be comprised of local talent. It’s an approach that Atkinson says was discussed during the interview process with Centralia College.
“A big thing was recruiting locally and building a fence around this thing and not letting anybody out,” said Atkinson.
An offensive minded coach by nature, Atkinson says he likes to see power bats at the corner defensive positions with slick gloves and speed up the middle. He says he prefers to see players hit the ball in the air as opposed to on the ground, but mostly, he just wants to see his players swing with an intent to hit the ball hard.
“I’m the son of a hitting coach. That’s what I do is teach kids how to hit. I have an obsession with it. You can ask my wife, she’ll tell you how much time I spend breaking down video,” said Atkinson.
According to Bob Peters, athletic director at Centralia College, Atkinson’s bonafides both on and off the field pushed him to the head of the pack of applicants for the head coach position.
“His vast experience at different levels as well as his NWAC experience played a big part in that,” said Peters. “I know he’s a hitting guy. His big strength is hitting, and he’s a heckuva recruiter. That’s what everyone’s said about him.”
No matter who the Trailblazers put on the field in his first season, Atkinson says he expects the team will be able to compete, even with the NWAC juggernaut just down the freeway at Lower Columbia College.
“This is a game here where it’s not how good you are. It’s how good you play,” said Atkinson. “In NWAC baseball, you’re never going to run into those titans that you’re just like, ‘How are we going to beat those guys?’ It’s just a level playing field.”
Atkinson is currently working quickly to shore up his first recruiting class and finalize his coaching staff before fall ball begins around the start of the school year. So far, Atkinson has been able to retain pitching coach Cam Margaris from last season’s staff but there are sure to be more than a few unfamiliar faces in the dugout next spring.
Ultimately, Atkinson says that beyond wins and losses and the number of players who move onto four year institutions, the success of the CC baseball program will become apparent in the response and attitudes of the local baseball community.
“My number one goal is for the community to be proud of us,” said Atkinson. “If you develop a strong alumni then that means that players are proud to play for you. They are proud to be Trailblazers.”