CLEMMONS, N.C. — Through his two-year battle with cancer, Jonah Hammett desperately wanted to get back on a baseball field, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
And after today, he’ll always have a presence at the Southwest Forsyth Little League complex. SWFLL officials will retire his No. 17 jersey and hang a No. 17 sign next to the scoreboard on Field 3. The jersey ceremony will be at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.
Hammett, a 14-year old former Little Leaguer, lost his battle with a rare form of brain cancer May 8 after multiple surgeries and a fight that inspired a community.
“He was just such a special, special kid, and the family is just so special. It’s just amazing what they’ve done for our league and what they’ve given to us,” said Barry Leonard, SWFLL’s president. “We’ll never be able to repay them … just by allowing us to follow along through this unfortunate journey — but it’s one that I think has opened a lot of eyes.”
Hammett had anaplastic ganglioglioma, a disease that was diagnosed in June 2012 just before he was to travel to Cooperstown, N.Y., to play in a baseball tournament. Treatment worked, and he was able to play at SWFLL in May 2013. But the cancer eventually made an aggressive return, and the Hammetts were told last July that it was inoperable.
As he weakened, Jonah tried his best to laugh and smile and maintain an exercise regimen. In early April, he was a groomsman in his brother Jeremy’s wedding, and that night, family members said there was little hint of the toll cancer had taken.
“He danced absolutely the entire night from the time the reception started until it ended. He had the best time,” said Amy Hammett, Jonah’s mother. “It was really special.”
Not long after, officials at SWFLL invited Jonah to be a part of the league’s opening-night ceremonies April 11. Some days, Jonah didn’t feel up to doing anything, but that night, he threw out the league’s first pitch of the season while surrounded by hundreds of children wearing “Team Jonah” shirts.
It was the last time Jonah stood on a baseball field, and it was a memorable moment for his mother.
“He had a great time that night. He was laughing and talking to everybody … you just had no clue that a month from then, he wouldn’t be there,” Amy said. “There’s a lot of good memories in that, the smile on his face was just as big as could be.”
About a week later, his health began rapidly deteriorating, and Jonah was hospitalized twice, the last time at the end of April to be given fluids.
Jonah’s condition worsened by the day, Amy said, and doctors learned after more tests that the cancer had spread quickly and aggressively, telling the Hammetts they were shocked by how devastating it was.
Until his last three days, Jonah was laughing and joking with visitors around his hospital bed.
“It had come back with a vengeance. It was crazy how fast it was,” Amy said.
When Jonah died May 8, his mother said, he was ready, because of his deep religious beliefs.
“He was OK with it, and I think him being OK allowed me and Tommy (Jonah’s father) and our kids to be OK with it,” Amy said. “Of course we hurt, and we miss him like crazy, but knowing that he knew he was going, and he knew that once he passed, he would be able to see, and run and play ball and hunt and fish — he knew those things — he was at peace with it, he really was.
“I think that’s what brings me peace now, knowing that he was at peace with it.”
Jonah’s memory has served as a rallying point at Southwest Forsyth all season long.
With the junior-league boys trailing by five runs in the seventh inning of an elimination game in the playoffs, the team broke its huddle with a chant of “17.” Down to its last out, Southwest rallied for five runs to win in extra innings, then won the next game to take the District II championship.
“You can’t tell me that something wasn’t there. Those kids grasp that, and they didn’t want to lose because they’re all playing for Jonah,” Leonard said.
The Hammetts hope to continue to honor Jonah’s spirit, too. The family is still deciding exactly what to do, but Amy said the focus will be on the three things Jonah was most passionate about — God, baseball and cancer research.
“We definitely, definitely want to do that, to give back to everybody that has helped us and been so incredibly generous in so many ways,” Amy said. “We want to be able to give back, and we want to be able to honor Jonah and his legacy, and what he believes in and what he would have done if he were able to do it.”