Reggie Willits spent six seasons in the Major Leagues with the Los Angeles Angels, but the Fort Cobb High-Broxton School and University of Oklahoma product admits there’s something mystical about wearing the pinstripes of the New York Yankees.
“It’s a special organization; it really is,” says the Bronx Bombers’ first base coach and outfield instructor. “I’m not taking anything away from the Angels, where I played my entire career. I still love that organization, but I remember … opening day, when we got home and put on that pinstripe uniform for the first time. For a split second, I remember thinking, ‘It’s special.’ To have the opportunity to work for an organization that stands for so many good things, I feel fortunate. What makes it good is the people you work with.”
In 2003, the Angels drafted Willits in the seventh round. He made his big league debut in April 2006 and played 414 games through 2011, when he was designated for assignment and became a free agent. After going unsigned, he returned to Oklahoma to spend time with his family.
Some view his playing career as abbreviated, but Willits sees it as a glass half-full.
“I look at everything in the game of baseball as it’s been a true blessing to me and my family,” Willits, 36, says. “There’s been ups and downs, but very few people can think about something that they’d dreamed of doing as a kid and getting to live it, and I was fortunate enough to be able to do that. I was on some really good teams. We went to the playoffs three times when I was in the big leagues.”
In 2013, Willits started coaching at Binger-Oney High School and led the Bobcats to two state titles in his three seasons. His transition to coaching was seamless.
“Just like anything else, anytime you’re coaching, it’s not about you; it’s about the players,” he says. “I had a good group of players that worked extremely hard. They bought into what we were trying to do, gave a lot of effort and made a lot of sacrifices.”
Between 2015 and 2017, Willits worked for the Yankees as outfield and baserunning coordinator, which allowed him to remain in Fort Cobb while traveling around the team’s minor league system to instruct prospects. His wife and sons remain in Fort Cobb, where Willits has a cattle operation. His family plans to make several trips to the Big Apple throughout the summer.
One element that Willits hasn’t changed from his playing days is his approach to the game.
“Every day, I’m trying to learn,” he says. “I think anything you do in life, if you’re not learning, something’s wrong. I’m in a good situation with a bunch of good players and good coaches surrounding me, feeling fortunate enough to learn every day.”