After beating the cancer with the help of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in the summer of 2014, Farmer appeared well on his way to following the plan of returning to baseball for the 2016 season. But in spring of 2015, trouble arrived. His body began to struggle with graft-versus-host disease in April, and on July 15 he announced on Twitter that the cancer had returned.
Ohio State pitcher Adam Niemeyer remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news from Ohio State head coach Greg Beals.
“I was playing summer ball in Chillicothe and after the game I went to my phone and saw Coach Beals texted all of us the news that (Zach) wouldn’t have long to live,” he said. “It was pretty shocking. It really put things into perspective. A lot of us went to see Zach as soon as we could and hung out with him a couple times and just tried to make his last month a normal one.”
The last time Niemeyer saw Farmer was July 26, when he and some others went over to visit their ailing teammate. That afternoon, Farmer got a shoutout from pitcher Randy Johnson during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Just over a week later, Farmer passed away at age 21.
His death came swiftly, less than three weeks after the announcement that the cancer was back. Like Farmer, many of his college teammates are supremely gifted athletes who grew up performing seemingly difficult feats with ease. The news that a guy who resembled them was dying was a brutal blow, and the news that he likely had less than 30 days to live gave those around the program little time to process the stunning turn of events.
“It’s very hard for our guys,” Beals said. “When you have these young men like this, they’ve been special athletes and highly touted young men their whole lives – almost with a Superman bravado to them. To have this go on in our family and to one of their teammates, it’s a definite sense of reality. It helps these guys have a better sense of life in general and a well-roundedness. That’s been the challenge. These guys haven’t had a lot of adversity in their lives. These guys have been very successful. Dealing with this has been something they’re not used to. That’s been the challenge from a coaching perspective.”
On Tuesday, just hours after Farmer’s death, those who knew him began the process of honoring him. His image looked out on Bill Davis Stadium from the outfield scoreboard by early afternoon, and his initials were drawn into the pitcher’s mound where he earned a win in his last appearance as a Buckeye.
Ohio State announced that an open house memorial will take place at Bill Davis Stadium 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, giving fans a chance to honor a fallen Buckeye.
“We’re certainly going to have a guardian angel,” Beals said. “That’s what he did. He’ll be there for our pitchers and our whole team. Today I just felt it was proper to put his number on the mound. We’re going to light this stadium up tonight and keep the lights on tonight so he can look down on us.”
Beals said the team will at a minimum have a memorial patch on jerseys next season but is also looking into other options to honor Farmer. When asked to describe Farmer’s impact in one way, Beals rightfully deemed it an impossible task. On an unthinkably difficult day, though, the actions of Beals and others in the program showed well enough how much Farmer meant to them.