‘He’s always with us’: Zach Cook leaves his mark on softball diamond

Donna and Jim Cook at Zach Cook field. Brett Honish (right) stands holding the uniform once worn by their son. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Brett Honish, coach and captain of the Swamp Donkey’s, remembers the day Zach Cook rushed back from chemotherapy in Saskatoon – just to play a game of softball.

“It was incredible the fight that kid had, such a young, young kid,” he said. “Unbelievable to see, it really was.”

Zach would never take a runner, Honish said. No matter how much he hurt, he always rounded the bases himself.

Softball helped keep Zach going through his 20-month battle with a rare form of cancer. Just months after surgery, he was back on second base.

“It totally lifted his spirits,” said his mom, Donna Cook. “It gave him something to look forward to a couple nights a week.”

Zach passed away this March, at age 21. But he’ll never be forgotten – at least on the ball diamonds at Lakeland Ford Park. Donna and her husband Jim joined the Swamp Donkey’s in front of Diamond 7, now known as Zach Cook Field.

Jim Cook hopes the field will raise awareness about desmoplastic small round cell tumour, an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects adolescents and young adults. Cook was the first case ever diagnosed in Saskatchewan, and one of only a handful in Canada.

The prognosis was grim. Doctors told the family that Zach had a 25 per cent chance of living for three years. They said there was no treatment, Jim remembered, and no cure.

“That’s what Zach was living with,” he said. “Imagine going to bed each night with that thought. First thing you think in the morning is ‘how many more days?’”

But Zach never complained, his parents said. He didn’t get mad, he didn’t blame anyone. And he kept playing softball, on two separate teams, right up to the end of the season.

“Especially (during) the last four or five months of his life,” Jim said, “all he could talk about was getting together with his teammates again from the Swamp Donkey’s and the Nitros.

“You gave him a reason to wake up in the morning, so God bless you all.”

Jim and Donna said they’re “proud and honoured” to see his legacy live on in the sport he loved. It will endure in other ways. The family has announced a Zach C. MVP award and a scholarship in their son’s name.

Donna felt Zach was looking over them that day. Now, she said, his spirit will be with his old teammates on the ball diamond. The Swamp Donkey’s couldn’t agree more.

“Everyone around the league knows now who Zach is,” Honish said. “Just to play on this field is an honour for any team.

“He’s always with us.”