“Today is a sad day but also a day of peace for Zach and his family,” Ohio State baseball coach Greg Beals said. “We will dearly miss our fellow Buckeye, teammate and friend Zach Farmer. I feel blessed to have had Zach in our program and the opportunity to coach him. Although his time here was cut short, his legacy as a Buckeye will be long lasting. I am proud of the fight he fought – we learned so much from him. Zach’s courage to fight, positive attitude and love for his supporters and teammates defines what it means to be a Buckeye.”
“On behalf of the family, we would like to thank everyone at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, especially Zach’s nurse practitioner Jon Mickle. The family is also very thankful for all of the support they have received from The Ohio State University and Buckeye Nation.”
The Piketon, Ohio, native originally was diagnosed during his freshman season as an OSU pitcher last spring, but after chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant believed he had beaten the disease. However, he tweeted July 15 that leukemia had returned and had been caught in its early stages.
However, it seemed to quickly become clear that Farmer faced long odds in his second bout. In a July 20 story, the Chillicothe Gazette noted that doctors had no choice but the let the cancer run its course after a mass was found on his lung, and he was given up to a month to live.
While Farmer came to Ohio State as a pitcher, he went down swinging. When asked by the Gazette what advice he'd give to someone facing a similar path as him, he gave a quick answer.
“Stay strong. Don’t give up. Keep fighting. You know how strong you are. You can beat it.”
Farmer lived up to those words until the end. He married his girlfriend of four years, Kelsie, on July 19 in an impromptu ceremony. The next week, he fielded a phone call from legendary pitcher Randy Johnson, who then mentioned Farmer in his National Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech July 26.
"He wanted to talk to me," Johnson said in Cooperstown. "I called him a couple of days ago. He doesn't have long to live. Zach, I love you. I've never met you before but thank you."
Farmer's talents as a left-handed pitcher were prodigious at Piketon High School in southern Ohio. A four-year letter winner, three-time All-Ohio choice and two-time conference player of the year, he went 10-1 with a 0.52 ERA in his senior season while also hitting .475 at the plate.
Those numbers made him one of the most sought after players in Ohio, and he picked the Buckeyes and Beals. Serving mostly as a midweek starter last spring during his freshman campaign, Farmer went 6-4 with a 3.28 ERA in his 10 games (nine starts) while holding hitters to a .234 batting average.
However, trainers were baffled in late April of last year as he battled sluggishness and dizziness, and a battery of tests returned the bad news -- he was facing acute myeloid leukemia on April 29.
Farmer immediately started chemotherapy, and teammates rallied to his aid. OSU captain Tim Wetzel organized a drive among teammates for the "Be The Match" campaign which seeks to find bone marrow or stem cell donors for those in need of a transplant. Similar drives were held on campus and at an Ohio State game later in spring.
By June 2014, Farmer's cancer was in remission, and he underwent a bone marrow transplant in August. He was released from care in September and made a trip to Bill Davis Stadium one of his first priorities.
“First of all, we’re really excited that Zach’s doing as well as he is,” Beals said at the time. “He’s had his bone-marrow transplant and they let him out of the hospital earlier that what was expected. He seems to be doing very well. He definitely is ahead of schedule as far as where he is in his rehab and treatment cycle. He’s been out to practice once already. It’s great to see him out here.”
Sporting a bald head and a smile, Farmer then met with the media at an Ohio State practice in October of last year.
“It feels great being able to come out on this field again,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling being able to get out and see everybody and talk to everybody. It’s awesome. ... I've been feeling real good. Things have been getting better. At first things were a little rough energy-wise but everything has been 10 times better.”
Farmer had designs on returning to the mound in 2016, and he even was well enough to throw out the first pitch before an Ohio State game April 21 of this year. However, the cancer would eventually return, though it never sapped Farmer of his enthusiasm.
"Life is short and sweet," he wrote in his Twitter bio. "Enjoy it!"
He is survived by his parents, Larry and Tammy.