GYPSUM — Talk to any member of the Eagle Valley High School baseball team and he will tell you that head coach Jesse Meryhew has his back.
So it wasn’t hard for Devils’ players — 35 kids total — to demonstrate the reverse is also true. Demonstrate, as in physically demonstrate, by way of newly bald heads shaved in solidarity with coach Meryhew’s battle against cancer.
Earlier this fall, Meryhew received his cancer diagnosis. He is currently undergoing treatment and has a strong prognosis for recovery. However, because of his treatments, this past week he lost his hair. But he wasn’t alone in his bald state for long.
Team captain and ace pitcher Travis Edgar doesn’t really know who originally came up with the idea for team members to shave off their hair once Meryhew lost his. “Everyone was thinking it, and then I got the word out.”
He talked his mom, Eliza Edgar, into staging a shaving event at the family home and then started telling players about the plan. One of the players is Tyler Greear, who then told his dad, Mike, about the project. Mike Greear is a volunteer assistant coach for the baseball Devils.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a great idea” said Greear.
Greear noted no one suggested anything to the boys, they simply wanted to let their coach know they were pulling for him.
“There isn’t a kid on the team who wouldn’t do anything for that guy,” said Greear. “Jesse doesn’t make them do anything, he just shows them the way it is and the way things should be done. He just wants them to be the best they can be.”
“Coach has been such a big part of our lives,” said senior Jacob Morrison, also a baseball team captain. “If he found out one of us was sick, he would be the first one shaving his head.”
“He always helps us and supports us and is there for us,” said Edgar.
When players describe Meryhew, they note he has high expectations and a relaxed manner. He leads by example.
“He isn’t afraid to listen to you. He is always open to learning as well as coaching,” said Edgar.
Edgar noted during one game this past summer, he told his catcher to ignore the signs from the bench. Edgar wanted to just throw fastballs because the batters couldn’t touch them.
“When the inning was over, Jesse walked over and asked what was going on. I told him I just wanted to throw fastballs,” said Edgar. “He told me ‘Travis, you may be 6-foot-6, but I will still take you down.’ Then he patted me on the back and said we were going to work on all the pitches.”
Morrison recalled how Meryhew delivers good advice and a calming presence at the mound.
“He knows I have always had trouble dwelling on my mistakes,” Morrison said. “He tells me to live for the next pitch and not to dwell on the past.”
Off the playing field, Meryhew is as likely to inquire about grades as workouts. He routinely lets players know about fall league options or great workout classes. Some players, including Edgar, do their CrossFit workout sessions at a gym set up in Meryhew’s garage. That proved to be convenient when the team decided to surprise the coach.
When the team captains planned the head-shaving event, they decided to reach out to all Eagle Valley High School baseball players. As a result, the event included as many freshmen as upperclassmen — some kids who played summer baseball for Meryhew and others who plan to go out for the team this spring.
“Those guys really stepped up big time as captains,” noted Greear
In the end, 35 players, three adults and one younger brother all participated. Once the heads were shaved, the boys piled into cars and drove to their coach’s house. Travis poked his head in the door and asked Meryhew to come out to the garage. It took him a couple of minutes to finish up a phone conversation, while the assembled crowd anxiously awaited his reaction.
“I was shocked. I had no idea. It was a huge surprise,” said Meryhew.
“It was amazing to see that kind of support and it just goes to show the character of the young men on the team,” he said.
Meryhew shook hands with each member of the team, posed for a group photo and then for pictures with various individuals. When they talk about their team, players often say they are like family. Coach Meryhew echoed that sentiment.
“I love every one of them. For them to do this for me was amazing,” he said.
Even as the players turned the spotlight on their coach, he quickly turned the conversation back to them.
“I am just looking forward to being back coaching. It’s one of my most favorite things to do,” said Meryhew.
Power of positive thinking
Players often talk about Coach Meryhew’s positive attitude. It didn’t abandon him when he received his diagnosis, according to his wife, Amy Nielson Meryhew.
“When he first learned he was sick, he literally felt down for about 15 minutes. Then he picked himself up and started talking about how he was going to beat it. It amazes me, he is so positive,” she said.
The demands of coaching mean Meryhew has to spend a lot of time away from his wife and the couple’s daughter, Jacey. That’s why the team’s support meant so much to all the Meryhews.
“It really touched us. Those boys mean so much to him,” Amy said “The community has really embraced him and that’s keeping his spirits up.”
Two days after the team converged at his house to show off their shaved heads, Meryhew sent out an email detailing the Devils’ spring schedule. Baseball kicks off March 6 in Paonia.
“Knowing him, he is doing everything in his power to get back,” said Morrison. “He is a really hard worker and he is really inspiring.”
Likewise, his players pledged to do everything they can to be ready when baseball season starts.
“I personally think we have a great opportunity to have a special team this spring,” noted Greear.
Even though it is months until they hit the diamond, the EVHS baseball Devils already have a head start on acting and looking like a team.
“After we shaved our heads last week, we didn’t let anyone wear hats to school the next day. The team had to represent for coach Jesse,” said Edgar.
“We are a team, and we support each other through thick and thin, whether it would be in a game or off the field. Mantente Fuerte (Stay Strong) Coach Jesse!”
Stephen “Yogi” Barela