OMAHA — McAllen Memorial alum Jake Gautreau is widely regarded as the top hitter the Rio Grande Valley has ever produced.
A Conference USA Hall of Famer at Tulane and former first round pick of the San Diego Padres in the 2001 MLB Draft, Gautreau is in his fourth year as a hitting coach and recruiting coordinator with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Since joining the program in 2018, Gautreau and the Bulldogs are 3-for-3 in NCAA Super Regionals with three consecutive berths to the College World Series in Omaha, including this year.
For his 8- and 6-year-old sons, ending the season in Omaha is all they know, Gautreau said with a laugh.
“As coaches and as a staff, it’s the most special thing going. It’s really, really hard to get where we are, so I think it takes a special group of players and coaches and everybody involved,” Gautreau said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done ahead of us, but we’re all very thankful and fortunate that we’re here right now.”
Mississippi State is set to square off against Texas in Game 1 of the College World Series at 6 p.m. Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. The game will air on ESPN.
Throughout his playing career which began in McAllen and reached as high as Triple-A professional ball for nearly nine years with the Padres, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets organizations, Gautreau was a problem at the plate for opposing pitchers.
While growing up in McAllen, Gautreau was named to a little league all-star team at 11 years old. One of his all-star teammates was Beau Nixon, a McAllen High alum and the father of current Texas freshman pitcher Aaron Nixon. Gautreau and Beau played alongside each other as all-stars and against each other in high school at Memorial and McHi, respectively.
“Best pure-hitter I’ve ever seen in my eyes; super competitive. I played right field for McHi and there were lots of balls he hit where I wouldn’t even move because I knew it was gone off the bat,” Beau Nixon said.
The left-handed batter finished his junior season at McAllen Memorial as the state’s leader in home runs.
He went on to star at Tulane for three years earning seven All-American honors, including being named first-team All-American as a junior and second-team All-American as a sophomore. Gautreau led the Green Wave to their first appearance in the College World Series in program history as a junior. He finished his career at Tulane with a .344 average with 58 home runs, 233 RBIs, 200 runs scored and 275 hits in three seasons.
His collegiate success led to being selected No. 14 overall by the Padres in the 2001 MLB Draft.
In the pros, Gautreau hit .254 with 81 home runs, 336 RBIs and 292 runs. It was during his first year of professional baseball, however, he became sick. Health issues became a constant battle, which ultimately led to his retirement from the game at 29, but it led to the launch of his coaching career.
“At the time my playing career was over, you’re sad, confused, a little bit lost with what you’re going to be doing the rest of your life. But the best thing ever was getting back in a uniform and getting on the field and coaching these young players. I realized really quickly that I enjoyed coaching, but more importantly, I enjoyed and loved helping these young players,” Gautreau said.
His coaching career began as a volunteer assistant at Tulane. He stayed with the Green Wave for five seasons before becoming an MLB Certified Player Agent for the Boras Corporation for three years. Now, Gautreau is back in Omaha for the third straight season as an assistant coach with Mississippi State.
“I think the most valuable thing to me, still to this day, is the struggles I had in professional baseball because my pro career was not ideal. I think all of those struggles and the grind of the highs and the lows and the slumps — I think all of those things actually help you the most with these young players and young hitters we have at this level,” Gautreau said. “I’ve been through everything they’ve been through, and when they understand and trust you and know you’re looking out for them and also know that you’ve been through it, I think they’re a little more willing to be vulnerable and be coached. I think a lot of my struggles over the years make me a better coach today.”
While coaching at Mississippi State and Tulane, Gautraeu has landed multiple top 10 recruiting classes, which has translated to on-field success. He’s also responsible for coaching up the Bulldogs’ bats, which have ranked among the most dangerous in the country during his stint with Mississippi State. In 2019, Gautreau was named Division I Baseball’s Assistant Coach of the Year.
“Being on the field with the kids, working with the kids, it’s the best part of the job, by far,” Gautreau said. “To see them put in all the time, to see them mature as players and as young men while they’re with us and get better and dog pile on the way to Omaha, it’s an incredible feeling.”