On Saturday afternoon, the Ohio State baseball team beat Iowa by a 9-4 score, and with the Buckeyes entering the series teetering on the edge of the Big Ten tournament, there's no doubting the team's third straight conference win was a big one.
But the more memorable moment for head coach Greg Beals came earlier in the day when he visited freshman pitcher Zach Farmer, who was diagnosed this week with acute myeloid leukemia, at OSU's Wexner Medical Center.
"The funny thing is I go see Zach this morning and I take him a scouting report," Beals said. "His dad reaches over on the bed for the scouting report and Zach (slams his hand down on it) and says, ‘That's confidential, dad.'
"God love him, are you kidding me? That's what he said. He has a line going in his chest, they're dropping chemo in his body, and he's got the sense of humor to just be like, ‘That's confidential, dad.'
"He's reading through and he's like, ‘Damn, they're going to have four lefties in the lineup, I could get those guys.' That's what he's thinking, and I want to keep him thinking that way. That's why I took him the scouting report. I want him thinking like the guys are thinking and keep him entrenched in what we're doing."
In fact, Farmer is never far from the Buckeyes' minds at the moment. His No. 11 jersey is still hanging in his locker, and the team wore orange wristbands – orange is the color of leukemia awareness – with "ZF11" in black lettering for today's win. There will be wristbands available to fans at the upcoming Northwestern series as well.
But there's no denying that Saturday's game was also a bit of a return to normalcy for the Buckeyes, who have gone through a disappointing start to the Big Ten campaign that reached its nadir with an extra-innings loss last weekend at Purdue that dropped the team to 4-9 in league play.
Right now, there's a Big Ten win streak that's building momentum for the team as it reaches the end of the schedule, but the situation with Farmer has also delivered the reminder that winning or losing baseball games isn't the end of the world.
"I almost hate to say it, but it is something that is bringing everybody together," said first baseman Josh Dezse, who belted two home runs Saturday – one halfway up the scoreboard in right and another that likely cleared 450 feet to left center. "It's a terrible thing, and a bunch of guys went and saw him the other day. He's in great spirits, he's joking around, he's laughing. He's not full of energy, but he does what he can.
"It's bringing guys together. This is not adversity on the baseball field. This is adversity in life, and we're here to support him and support each other."
That support has been necessary in what has been a whirlwind week for the Buckeyes. Farmer last pitched April 20 vs. Murray State at Bill Davis Stadium, tossing five innings and earning his team-best sixth win of the campaign, but hadn't been feeling well of late. There were suspicions that the Piketon, Ohio, native was facing mono, but the team decided to send him to a doctor after he had dizziness during a throwing session on Monday.
"He gets the blood test on Monday afternoon, and Tuesday morning it comes back negative for mono but they have some abnormalities in his blood count," Beals said. "They take him over the hospital and by 5 o'clock Tuesday night he's in the leukemia room. By 5:30 last night they started the chemo drip in him. You're kidding me? Two Sundays ago, he pitched five innings right out there? That's the life lesson that our guys have, don't take anything for granted."
In a twist of fate, Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes was diagnosed with the same cancer in the summer of 2012, and Ohio State had already determined to donate some of the proceeds from Saturday's game to Oakes' "Strike Out Cancer" campaign.
And it appears that Oakes' story is one that Farmer would like to duplicate. Oakes spent almost two months in the hospital for chemotherapy treatments then underwent a successful bone marrow transplant and is back with the Golden Gophers.
"Bone marrow is going to be the critical part," Beals said. "They're going to get him into remission, then he's going to have a bone marrow transplant. If that goes well, then he has a chance of winning outright."
Ohio State returns to the field Sunday with a rematch vs. Iowa and then closes the series against the Hawkeyes, with whom they are tied for seventh place in the league, on Monday.
Farmer – who will get the chance to watch both games on Big Ten Network – will certainly continue to be in the team's thoughts.
"These guys aren't playing to win games," Beals said. "They're not playing to this, that or the other. They're playing because they love the game of baseball. They're playing because they have a brother who can't play the game of baseball, and they're playing for him."