In the sixth inning of the Mountain View baseball team’s league-clinching win on Friday, Jake Ryan dashed out of the batter’s box toward first base.
He had just hit a slow ground ball to the Camas second baseman and was likely going to be out. But a little extra effort would at least make the play close.
Ryan dove head-first toward first base. Though he was out by a half-second, he wore the dirt that now covered the front of his uniform with the same pride as someone wearing an Armani suit.
He had left everything on the field, and was now taking some of that field back to the dugout.
Watching Ryan play third base on Friday, you’d never guess that underneath that dirt and jersey is a scar from when doctors performed open heart surgery on Dec. 16.
Last November, Ryan learned he had a potentially fatal heart defect. His story and how the Mountain View basketball team rallied around their teammate was chronicled by The Columbian in the Dec. 25 article “Heart Over Hype.”
Ryan had his aortic valve replaced. For weeks, surgical staples held his ribcage together while the bones healed.
At the time, Ryan hoped to recover in time to play baseball. He and his coaches figured the spring high school season would be a longshot. Summer ball was more realistic.
But Friday, there was Ryan on the diamond, a key contributor to Mountain View’s march to the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League title.
A four-year varsity player, Ryan only missed the first eight games of the season. Since Ryan returned to action April 1, Mountain View (13-6) has gone 8-3 and is on a seven-game win streak.
Those who know Ryan, such as boyhood friend and teammate Colin Biggs, aren’t surprised by his early return to action.
“That’s just the Jake I know,” Biggs said. “It’s his passion for the game and his competitiveness.”
Ryan has played in all of Mountain View’s 11 games since April 1, hitting either first, third or fourth in the batting order. He is 10 for 37 with five runs scored and five RBI.
In the final inning of Friday’s 3-0 win, Ryan made a leaping grab at third base of a sharp-hit line drive.
“He’s a competitor who loves to win,” Mountain View coach Aaron Coiteux said. “He probably willed himself to get back before (spring) break and continue to get better.”
Since emerging from surgery, everything about Ryan’s recovery has been ahead of schedule. The day after the operation, he was slowly walking the halls of Oregon Heath and Science University hospital in Portland. Doctors said he would be hospitalized for five to seven days. He was home in four.
“I was pretty determined that I was going to play,” Ryan said. “I recovered quicker than I thought I would.”
By February, Ryan was doing light cardio exercises and slowly regaining strength in his core. There were no post-surgery complications with his new heart valve.
After missing all of the baseball team’s winter workouts, Ryan said his timing and strength were a little off. But he’s now “close to 100 percent” with no soreness.
The biggest reason Ryan was eager to get back in the game?
“Just to be around these guys,” he said. “There are a lot of seniors out here that have been playing together for a lot of years now. It just feels good to be out here with playing with them and get back at it.”
A three-sport athlete most of his life, Ryan’s senior year didn’t go as he planned.
But when in comes to showing a rare resiliency, Ryan has hit a home run.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @col_mrice.