His thoughts are still on the field
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 20, 2012 1:46 PM
No target has been established some 60 feet away from the young man with a baseball in his hand.
For now, the spot behind home plate is empty.
The Eastern Wayne High School baseball team planned it this way.
They want their pitcher to go through his motion -- to hurl a fastball to the backstop instead of a catcher.
Maybe then, the teammate a cancer diagnosis removed from their 2012 lineup will understand that they will carry his absence with them to every game.
It's more than a simple pitch.
It's their vow to keep him in their hearts -- and on the diamond -- always.
Jake May already knows just how much he means to his teammates.
They proved it when they took to the interstate to visit him at Duke Hospital, when they raised money to help his family offset the expenses that come with a leukemia fight, when they started, and never stopped, praying for a miraculous recovery.
So when the Warriors, if their plan comes to fruition, open their season with that symbolic two-seamer, it will only add to the tale of brotherhood that began unfolding moments after a 17-year-old was told he was about to play the biggest game of his life.
"What they're doing, having that support, it really helps," Jake said, a few minutes before a nurse walked into his hospital room to check his blood pressure. "It's made it a lot easier. It's full in here every day."
At first, Jake ignored the symptoms -- blurry vision, a "throbbing" head, shortness of breath.
But when a knot appeared on his face and then vanished a few days later -- when his mother, Cindy, took him to the doctor for treatment of a sore throat and fever -- he came clean about just what he had been going through during the weeks leading up to catching what he assumed was just a virus.
And when his fever spiked to 104.7, Cindy began to worry.
"The doctor said, 'I think it's a virus, but if I can't get a hold of this, I'm not going to try to be a hero,'" she said. "He said, 'If it keeps up, I'm going to send you to Duke or Chapel Hill.'"
A few days later, the Mays found themselves in Durham.
"Even then, we were still hopeful it was just a virus," Jake's father, Roger, said. "But the bone marrow pretty much told the story."
And a 17-year-old who had, until that point, been focused on preparing for the upcoming baseball season, graduation and college, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
"We kind of lost it," Cindy said.
But the emotional response was not contained within Duke Hospital.
The news was already spreading back at Eastern Wayne -- throughout the community that houses it and beyond.
A Facebook page was created to solicit donations, and prayers, for the family.
T-shirts and decals were designed to raise awareness about the boy's plight.
And within a week of that bone marrow biopsy, discussing Jake May had become routine for thousands of people.
Roger broke down when he started talking about just how much their support has meant to the family.
"There were a lot of emotions flying, but what we've seen has been so uplifting that I can't explain it," he said, choking up. "I just hope everybody out there who's praying for him knows how much we appreciate it -- how grateful we are. We may not ever be able to thank every one of them ... but it's been amazing.
"I know God is good because of them. I have seen God's hand in a lot of things that have happened this past week."
And Cindy said the response "says something about people in general."
"It's overwhelming, but it doesn't just say a lot about Jake, his friends and our community," she said. "We read a lot and hear about all the bad stuff, but this is proof that people are good."
But for the young man faced with the kind of adversity no parent would ever wish upon their child, the prayers, visits and words of encouragement from teammates and perfect strangers alike have given him strength.
"I get messages every day on Facebook that say, 'I don't know you, but I'm praying for you.' I wish I could respond to every one of them," Jake said. "It makes it easier to know that there are people out there praying 24/7. So I'm very thankful for them. I mean, there are people I don't even know praying every day. It means a lot."
In just under two weeks, Jake's progress has been characterized as "miraculous" by many who understand all that he's up against.
His MRI, spinal tap and blood work came back clean.
He ate pizza after his second round of chemotherapy.
And if everything goes according to plan, he will return to Goldsboro this evening.
But even if he does come home, his battle will be far from over.
Jake will still have to protect himself from infection for the next six months.
He will be forced to endure more trips to Duke Hospital, more chemotherapy and tests.
He will have to put his college plans -- and the life he was looking forward to -- on hold.
"I just have to be very careful," he said.
But the boy still dares to dream.
He insists that when the Warriors open their season, he will be in the dugout -- still providing the calming influence his teammates characterize as a game changer.
"I'll be there," Jake said. "That's my team."
And by the end of the year, he will resume training for the career he has been pursuing since he was a child.
"He made a comment yesterday that he'll be back out there on that field," Roger said Tuesday.
Jake nodded his head.
"I'm not gonna give up on that," he said. "No way."