Centralia College has named Kawika Emsley-Pai the interim head baseball coach, replacing Cody Atkinson, who resigned this week to take a position with the Cincinnati Reds.
Atkinson will assist the team through Feb. 8, but Emsley-Pai, who had been working as the team’s assistant coach since July, has already assumed head coaching duties.
“Our goal as a college is to make a smooth transition for our student-athletes, and Kawika will provide that,” said Athletic Director Bob Peters. “He’s a great coach and I have full confidence he will lead this team and these players through a great season.”
Atkinson will become the hitting assessment/run production coach, a new position, for the Cincinnati Reds, and will join the team for spring training in Arizona in February.
Atkinson said he’d turned down four previous offers from Major League Baseball teams in the last several months, but this offer from the Reds was a life-changing opportunity.
“I told them I was only interested in pursuing an opportunity if it was truly life-changing, and they took a few days before calling me back,” Atkinson described. “My phone rang and I thought it was them telling me they’d connect with me next year, but they offered me this new position and it was something I had to do. It was a hard decision because I love what we’ve been doing here at Centralia College. This is a baseball town and this is a baseball school, and Kawika and I have worked hard to set standards that will move this team forward. Knowing that work will continue with Kawika as head coach gives me confidence this team and our players are in great hands.”
Emsley-Pai and Atkinson are childhood friends, who started playing baseball together at age 8. Their career paths diverged after college, when Atkinson went straight into coaching and Emsley-Pai was drafted out of the Lewis-Clark State College to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He ended up playing six years with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, rising up the Triple-A level. A catcher, he was known in the Pirates organization as a mentor for prospects and new recruits.
“He is easily the best baseball coach as far as game strategy and skills development. He exceeds me in those areas because he’s played at such a high level,” Atkinson said. “He’s also sat next to me for the last six months and worked alongside me in developing this Centralia College team. We created the player development plan together. We made the schedule together. We recruited our players together. We developed the culture and the standards together. Everything we built together will be implemented by Kawika. That’s good news for our current players and all the incoming recruits.”
Centralia College signed 17 new recruits Nov. 1 for the baseball team, the largest early signing class in Northwest Athletic Conference history.
The CC baseball team started official practices Jan. 14. The first game is Feb. 23.