The Blue Springs South baseball team organized a charitable walk last November, a fundraiser for former player Jake Clark to support his ongoing battle with melanoma cancer. The coordinators had hoped for a decent turnout on that winter morning.
Hours later, they counted nearly 150 participants, including a dozen former high school teammates who had made the drive from their various college campuses.
“It just showed you what people thought of him,” South baseball coach Ben Baier said. “That group was always so tight, and they never lost that with Jake, even after being apart for a few years.”
The same group flooded a hospital room over the weekend, their chance to say goodbye to a beloved teammate.
Clark died Saturday, following a 19-month battle with melanoma. He was 22.
Clark, who graduated from Blue Springs South in 2014, was a senior at Pittsburg State. He was on track to graduate in May with a degree in management and marketing, according to school officials. He was a member of the Pittsburg State baseball team, along with his younger brother, Tyler.
“Jake was a very special person,” Pittsburg State coach Tom Myers said in a news release. “He had a quiet humility about him and a natural sense of humor that drew guys to him. We’re so thankful that Jake was a part of our team. Our hearts go out to his friends and family.”
Clark was initially diagnosed with malignant melanoma in August 2016. After several surgeries, treatments and weekly shots before attending classes at Pittsburg State, he thought he had defeated the disease, according to a journal post from his mother last year.
But the cancer returned in October.
“Typical for Jake, he took the news and pressed on with more surgeries, more doctors visits but also (with) his positive attitude and sense of humor,” his mother, Kim, wrote on a website dedicated to Clark.
Clark played varsity baseball for Blue Springs South. He was also a member of the basketball program for two seasons, and hoops coach Jimmy Cain remembered him as “a coach’s dream. He was very tough-minded. Great teammate. One of those guys who got along with everybody in the school.”
As a senior, Clark started for the baseball team that finished third in Missouri Class 5, the program’s best placing in school history. On the bus ride home, after the group fell short of its goal to win a state championship, Clark and his teammates told stories and laughed in the back of the bus. Baier, whose 8-year-old son had joined the players on the bus, has a coffee mug with a picture to remember that moment. Clark is front and center.
“Jake and that group were just a great group of guys who I wanted my kid to be around,” Baier said.
That spirit evidently lasted at Pittsburg State. His teammates there posted messages across social media after news of his death over the weekend.
“I am so thankful for the time I shared with Jake Clark,” Pittsburg State junior pitcher Nick Brown wrote. “I will never forget the lessons about toughness, courage and resilience he taught me. His spirit will live on forever.”
“The strongest guy I’ve ever met and the best, most selfless teammate you could ever ask for,” sophomore outfielder Cody Rowe posted.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Independence.