The last time Adam Niemeyer and five other Ohio State teammates saw Zach Farmer, the talk did not center on hospitals, leukemia, hair loss and chemotherapy treatments.
It was a group of young men talking baseball, watching baseball and having that good-to-be-alive feeling on a Sunday afternoon in the living room of the Farmer’s home in Piketon, Ohio.
“It was just a normal day,’’ said Niemeyer, a redshirt sophomore to be. “We just hung out.’’
The Buckeyes were watching the Hall of Fame ceremonies on television from Cooperstown, N.Y., and inductee Randy Johnson brought a smile to Farmer’s face.
“Randy Johnson gave him a shout-out,’’ Niemeyer said.
But there were no smiles today at Bill Davis Stadium. After a 15-month fight, Farmer, 21, died of complications from acute myeloid leukemia in the morning at the Arthur G. James cancer hospital.
The grounds crew stenciled Farmer’s No. 34 in chalk at the base of the pitcher’s mound and put his picture on the scoreboard in right-center field. The stadium’s lights were to be turned on after sundown.
Farmer, who was a three-time first-team All-Ohio player in high school, was a prize recruit as a left-handed pitcher. As a freshman at Ohio State, his record was 6-4 with a 3.28 ERA in 10 games before tests came back positive for cancer on April 29, 2014.
Coach Greg Beals, who was in close contact with Farmer and his family since the diagnosis, fought his emotions many times answering questions from the media.
“I went in to see Zach last Monday,’’ Beals said. “It was his 21st birthday. … The hard part for me was the dad inside me and looking at his dad. It was hard to see the pain they were going through.’’
There was so much hope when doctors determined that Farmer had gone into remission on June 6, 2014. But the disease returned this past April when a lung infection was detected. His body had rejected a bone marrow transplant.
On July 15, Beals was driving with his family to South Carolina for a vacation when Farmer called with awful news.
“He was bawling his eyes out and said, ‘Coach, the leukemia is back and they can’t help me anymore,’’’ Beals said, his voice cracking.
Days after the diagnosis, Farmer married his high school sweetheart, Kelsie. The wedding pictures show the groom with a wide smile on his face and a fist pumping the air. He was hooked up to a breathing apparatus with an oxygen tank at his feet.
Niemeyer said the Buckeyes will play in Farmer’s honor, beginning with fall baseball practices in September.
“He will be in our minds,’’ Niemeyer said. “You have a bad day at the plate and it could always be worse. Zach had a little southern drawl. I’ll remember that. He was always positive and happy.’’
Niemeyer was playing summer baseball for Chillicothe when he heard that Farmer’s condition had worsened.
“Now we’re praying for Zach’s family,’’ Niemeyer said.
Farmer’s final game for Ohio State was his best. On April 20, 2014, against Murray State, he gave up four hits and three runs and struck out three in five innings in relief of Jake Post in a 7-3 victory.
Because he came from a small town, Farmer had an immense jump to make to succeed in major college baseball.
“Zach was throwing 88 to 92 miles per hour that day,’’ Beals said. “That was as good as he had ever been. That’s as confident he had ever been. He was adjusting to the speed of the game.’’
Beals paused before continuing.
“It’s a shame that was the last time he ever pitched,’’ he said.
Five days later, the Buckeyes were about to play Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., when Farmer told Beals that he felt dizzy and tired. He had vomited after pitching in the bullpen.
When Farmer’s condition didn’t improve over the next two days of the series, Beals had doctors perform tests once the team returned to Columbus. It was believed mononucleosis was the problem.
Outfielder Tim Wetzel, a senior captain on the 2014 team, was pro-active by asking teammates to swab the inside of their mouths for a DNA sample to see if any were a bone marrow match for Farmer. Every player did so.
None matched, but it was a powerful message to the public that someone could help Farmer. He eventually got a match for a transplant.
On April 21 of this year, Farmer threw out the first pitch before a home game against Morehead State. It was “Be the Match Night.’’
Asked what he’ll remember most about Farmer, Beals went into deep thought. There was a lot to remember.
“I think of the word fighter – courage all the way to the end,’’ he said. “I’ll remember that smile, that southern drawl. We’re certainly going to have a guardian angel.’’