When considering which pitcher might be best suited to accommodate the stress that comes with pitching on Opening Day, most high school coaches have to work through mental gymnastics, weighing a number of different ephemeral considerations.
Not South Hills High School (West Covina, Calif.) baseball coach Darren Murphy. For his team, the answer is simple: Give the ball to the guy who has already beaten cancer. Twice.
“We try to tell the other guys that do you think Jaylen’s (Fong) worried about bases loaded?” Murphy told Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC. “The guy has been through cancer twice. Do you think that he’s worried about who we’re going to play. He’s had much tougher battles in his life than pitching on a Wednesday at 3:30.”
Indeed, South Hills senior starting pitcher Jaylen Fong has already overcome remarkable odds to even suit up on a baseball field. Fong was diagnosed with childhood leukemia the first time at age 8. Four years later, he was declared cancer free, only for the condition to return just months later.
He beat that bout, too, and now has emerged as the metronome of the South Hills baseball team. He showed his worth on the diamond in the season’s first game: six shutout innings, three hits allowed and three K’s, with 43 strikes on 51 pitches. Final score? 6-0 South Hills against Carter.
The game was truly a full circle effort on the part of the South Hills team, which kicked off the game by honoring former South Hills assistant Tom Quinley, who passed away from lung cancer in August.
“I feel like nothing I face in the future could ever be that challenging,” Fong told KABC. “It was a huge honor (to start Opening Day). I just had to go out there and pitch for my coach because he always made me feel welcome here. He always asked me how I was doing.”
Mission accomplished. Now for a full, healthy season on the bump.