With three outs left and trailing by one run to Kimball, members of the Eden Valley-Watkins baseball team met in front of their dugout, put their hands in the middle and yelled a collective refrain on three: “Jake!”
The Eagles wanted a win for their sophomore starting catcher Jake Foehrenbacher, who had been pronounced dead just 10 hours before game time April 14 from a cerebral aneurysm he had suffered two days prior.
EV-W fell short, losing the game 2-1 to area rival Kimball.
As the Eagle players hugged and comforted each other through tears after the game, EV-W head coach Mike Tomsche knew that his players had crashed back to reality after two hours of trying to take their minds off Jake’s tragic death.
“They really wanted this one for him too,” Tomsche said. “That’s where the emotions are coming from.”
EV-W starting pitcher Travis Thielen threw six innings of two-run ball, and expressed the shock of losing a teammate — and his battery-mate — so suddenly.
“This spring, he’s all who I’ve thrown to in the last few weeks,” Thielen said. “It’s definitely weird not seeing him back there.”
Because of the chaotic past two days of school, junior centerfielder Reese Jansen said it wasn’t until he was on the field that Jake’s death truly hit him.
“It hadn’t really sunk in until today, with the moment of silence,” Jansen said,
Jansen said that all the student absences this week made it feel like Jake may be back any moment: “Like, ‘Oh, he was just on a trip,'” Jansen said.
But Thursday night was much more than a game: it was an opportunity for the massive, overflowing crowd — and the Eden Valley-Watkins community — to meet and celebrate the brief, wondrous life of a 16-year-old taken too soon.
“This is probably the best crowd that I’ve seen at a high school baseball game,” Jansen said. “Jake was a good kid. Everybody wanted to say goodbye, pay their respects.”
“Jake would have loved to see this,” said his younger brother Alex Foehrenbacher, a freshman at EV-W. “It’s great how the community came together: Rocori’s with us, Kimball’s with us, Eden Valley-Watkins is really with us, Litchfield’s with us — they’re all with us.”
Alex caught the ceremonial first pitch before the game, thrown by his father, Don Foehrenbacher, mere hours after Don and his wife said their goodbyes to Jake.
Foehrenbacher was blown away by the love and support the community showed during the family’s trying two days at the Children’s Hospital of Minneapolis.
“The best thing was the last two days in the hospital: there were probably 50 students, teachers, parents who came down,” Don said. “They were just as supportive as could be. … You see the amount of good in people.”
Foehrenbacher had expected to see his son behind the plate April 14 against the Cubs: Jake had caught the Eagles’ first game of the season — his first varsity start — the previous week against Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City.
Instead, the father had been by his son’s side as Jake lay unresponsive after his aneurysm.
“To see somebody that’s that strong laying there,” Foehrenbacher said. “You keep waiting for him to wake up and smile.”
After EV-W activities director and dean of students Dave Schneider offered to reschedule the game, it was Alex who insisted they play, Don said.
“Alex told Dave, ‘Let’s play ball tonight,'” Foehrenbacher said.
A vital gift
Even after his death, Jake showed his generosity and spirit.
When Don and Kelly left Minneapolis on April 14, Jake was still hooked up to a ventilator so that his heart would be usable along with the rest of his organs, which were to be donated on Friday, Don Foehrenbacher said.
“Tomorrow morning he’ll be in other people,” he said. “That’s the bright spot.”
Don Foehrenbacher recalled the conversation he had with Jake about organ donation on their way to the DMV right before the 16-year-old was to receive his first driver’s license.
“He told me, ‘Geez, Dad: can you imagine if somebody else got my body parts?'” Don Foehrenbacher recalled. “‘They’re going to be stronger, faster and smarter than they’ve ever been!'”