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Delly’s Drive: Jack Delmore’s poise and peace in the face of cancer

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Rob Edwards - KLC Fotos/Courtesy


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JUNE 10, 2021

Arman Sabouri waited in the car for the familiar dull latch of the door handle and sigh of resistance from the passenger seat signifying a successful acquisition of his friend. Their routine of carpooling to a national park was one as old as time, but the adventure was fresh — Sabouri and his former teammate and fellow outdoor enthusiast Jack Delmore were headed to Yosemite in the dead of winter to see Glacier Point in all of its snowy glory. They had tried to make the trek a year earlier and were ultimately deterred by the snow but were determined to make it to the famous outlook no matter how difficult the trudge would be. 

Some elements of Delmore’s arrival were the same — the latch, the seat compressing and the snap of the car door sealing shut. But Delmore’s characteristically tranquil energy was very different this time, and Sabouri noticed right away. 

“It was kind of quiet, but he was OK. But the mood was kind of weird. I could tell that something was a little off.” 

They made the drive to Sabouri’s grandparents’ house and spent the following morning rising with the sun and beating the other souls brave enough to conquer Yosemite in winter into the park. Sabouri and Delmore were joined by two friends, one of whom was a fellow Cal baseball player, on their trek up the mountain. Despite all being college-educated, not a single one of them was wearing pants in the thigh-deep blanket of snow covering the trail to the lookout; Blake Atkins, a now-junior infielder for the Bears, punted a boulder in an attempt to roundhouse kick a snowman someone had built off the top of it and nursed a sore foot for the remainder of the hike.

But of course, these mishaps were the most memorable parts of the strenuous 9.2-mile hike. The friends shared a jovial day of laughter, snowball fights, muscle cramps and snacks before they were rewarded with a view of Half Dome that sent their hearts reeling. 

“It was so beautiful,” Sabouri said after he and Delmore finally accomplished their Glacier Point goal. It was the first time Delmore had truly experienced snow, and he and his friends spent their hard-earned time in the shadow of Half Dome building snow forts, throwing snow off the cliff faces and, as Delmore put it, acting “like a kindergartener out there.”

Unbeknownst to Sabouri, Delmore was hoping it wouldn’t be his last time seeing snow. Delmore was harboring the knowledge that his life had changed forever, and although he had just scaled a mountain, a much bigger one lay ahead that would challenge him in ways he could never have predicted. 

Photo of Jake Delmore
Rob Edwards – KLC Fotos/Courtesy

Delmore set foot on Evans Diamond for the first time as a walk-on transfer from Chabot College in 2019. All eyes were on the new players, but Delmore never cracks under pressure. In fact, he thrives with it, treating every day as if it is the most important of his life. 

“You could tell he really wanted to be there. When you first show up as a walk-on, you’re not allowed to lift for a month or two, but he would show up to every lift and watch us just to support us,” said Nick Proctor, a current righty for the Bears and one of Delmore’s former roommates. “He really earned my respect for all the little things that he did, and I really admired it.”

It was in the bullpen and dugout that Delmore formed bonds with teammates that were cemented into lasting friendships by hours of practice, hard-fought losses and early morning workouts. Sabouri, a former Bears southpaw, went on to be drafted by the Brewers at the end of the season, and Delmore graduated from Berkeley in 2020 before deciding to play at Holy Names University as a graduate student while earning a master’s degree in business. Proctor remains at Cal, and the friends see each other as often as baseball’s whims allow. 

At once confident enough to command the attention of a crowd of fans while on the mound, Delmore is demure and reluctant to have people dote on him. He is equally independent and good-natured, making him the ideal teammate and confidant. But what distinguishes Delmore is his mindset — not only is he humble and gracious, but his positivity and gumption are unflappable even in the face of adversity. 

“We were playing Michigan at home. Jack hadn’t been pitching very well — not terribly, but not like his usual self. It’s pretty easy to get discouraged, get off track,” Proctor said. “He treated every day like the Super Bowl, like every day is the biggest day of your life. He’d always say, ‘Super Bowl today.’ We were playing a pretty frustrating game against Michigan. They put Jack in — it’s kind of tough because it’s a Tuesday night, it’s cold, and there’s a lot of ways where doubt creeps into your mind, or you can just underperform. But that was probably the best I’ve ever seen him pitch.” 

Cultivating an imperturbable, forward-looking mindset and being familiar with the day-in, day-out grind of being a student-athlete helped Delmore succeed on the field and in the classroom. But he never knew it would be so critical to fighting a life-threatening illness he was diagnosed with in December 2020. 

After weeks of sickness and pain in the months prior, Delmore was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Doctors caught the disease relatively early, but he was prescribed six months of treatment and chemotherapy. 

“We were just casually eating and chatting, and he told us. It felt so surreal — like there’s no way this is real. But it was almost like he was trying to cheer us up instead of we were trying to cheer him up. He didn’t really let us get sad about it,” Proctor said. “He told us all about it and how you should deal with it and everything, so it was a bit of a roller coaster, from being shocked, being sad, then being extremely confident in his body to fight it off. It was definitely a very interesting night, but he was doing all the smiling and all the talking.”

Being informed that you have cancer is news that can make people crumble, and those that are fighting it know the various tolls it can take on the body, mind and spirit. Delmore, however, refused to fall prey to the struggle and immediately adapted — all the while maintaining his vitality and selflessness. 

With the help of current and former coaches, Delmore organized the “Delly Drive,” a Make-a-Wish campaign titled after his teammates’ favorite nickname for him, Delly. Despite bearing his name, the fundraiser is not even for Delmore — he decided to dedicate the drive to children fighting cancer. The project has since exceeded its $10,000 goal, and everyone from teammates to parents and distant acquaintances has pitched in to support Delmore’s cause. 

“When people find out you have cancer, everyone asks, ‘How can we help?’ and ‘I’m so sorry, if you ever need anything, call.’ Of course, it’s very heartwarming and sweet, but at the same time — in my head — I don’t need anything,” Delmore said. “You can help someone else who really needs it. And that’s how this all started.”  

The money raised by Delmore will go toward funding a vacation to Santa Barbara for Charlie, a 6-year-old fighting leukemia.  

“One of my roommates, Nick Proctor — we always talked about how if we pitch bad, or there’s the pandemic, or we have any bad luck, we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We’re just going to find a way to overcome whatever comes our way,” Delmore said. “And I guess that’s what I looked at this cancer diagnosis as. It was just that adversity that all the coaches and all your strength coaches talk about. For me, I just looked at it like another obstacle in the way of a baseball season.”

Despite his caring nature and his effervescent personality, treatment took a toll on Delmore and those closest to him. The days leading up to chemotherapy can be tense, and the days after are draining. 

“No one’s gonna just not feel bad when they get chemotherapy. But I feel like Delmore, he just had such an attitude and such a determination to — I guess it’s weird to say, but fight through it and just keep it positive the whole time,” Sabouri said. “And I don’t think there’d be anyone who would do better in his situation than he did.”

For those close to him, Delmore’s self-sufficiency has made their attempts to support him borderline impossible — Sabouri and Proctor concluded that they were probably more impacted initially than even Delmore was, especially because he refused most gestures. But through every day of treatment, every day of uncertainty and every day of heartache, Delmore never strayed from his core value of authenticity; in doing so, he elevated everyone by his side as well. 

“Jack is probably one of the strongest people I know mentally,” Proctor said. “He doesn’t really let anything interfere with him, no matter what hard stuff comes his way. He’s pretty resilient, and he uses anything to motivate him.” 

Despite only playing together for one season, Sabouri maintains that Delmore has never wavered in his outlook, both on and off of the diamond. 

“His attitude toward life is unlike any other, and I think that you have to really credit him for having that attitude. And honestly, that’s a big factor in getting through something like that,” Sabouri said. “When he told me he had cancer, I honestly, honest to God, was not that concerned. Because I knew that he was going to fight through it. If there was someone to have such a challenge ahead and overcome it, it would be Delmore.”

Photo of Jake Delmore
Arman Sabouri/Courtesy

As Delmore reached the summit of Glacier Point and looked out over the valley below, the last thing on his mind was his diagnosis despite having received the news less than a day before.

“I got the cancer diagnosis, went home for an hour and then Arman picked me up,” Delmore said. No one else had any idea of what had transpired.  

The only thing Delmore thought about for most of the day was enjoying the company of his friends in the tranquility of one of the country’s most beautiful stretches of land. All he pondered as he stared Half Dome in the face was the sheer amount of snow at the top of the peak, not any other mountains he might have to conquer. 

“I remember thinking, ‘Maybe this is going to be metaphorical for overcoming something.’ But then we got to the top, and we were like, ‘Do you think we could throw a snowball all the way to that tree?’ ” Delmore laughed. “We were just throwing snowballs off the cliff. There was no one there, and we could kind of goof around. It wasn’t as spiritual of a journey, but it was so fun nevertheless.” 

Treatment is proving extremely effective for Delmore, and he is more confident than ever in the fortuity of his body and his mind. The psyche, that of an athlete and competitor, has allowed him to outplay his illness as if it were an opponent on the diamond. 

“He wants to come out of having cancer better than he went in,” Proctor said. “He’s trying to strengthen his body and his mind, which honestly is unbelievable because what he’s going through can’t be easy.”

He still throws bullpens with Sabouri when he’s in town and attends baseball games at his alma mater when he has the chance; he has a laundry list of national parks he wants to visit and Greek restaurants he wants to try with Proctor. 

Delmore is as skilled at throwing curveballs as he is at receiving them from life. But for now, while he continues to heal and persevere with infectious positivity, the only things he’s focusing on pitching in the near future are offspeed snowballs to the lodgepole pines of Yosemite.

Emily Ohman covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.

JUNE 13, 2021

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