Miners’ Jacob Fagundes fights his way back to the diamond

El Diamante’s Jacob Fagundes made his return to baseball after battling cancer and other health issues the last four years. Returning to baseball was one of Fagundes’ biggest motivators during his health battles.

El Diamante senior overcomes cancer, other health issues to return to baseball this spring

VISALIA – When high school baseball players take the field for their senior season, it’s always bittersweet emotions as they prepare to say goodbye to the sport they love. But for El Diamante’s Jacob Fagundes, he is just happy to be on the field after fighting a different kind of battle for the past four years. 

In June 2020, right before his freshman year, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a rare type of blood cancer. Not knowing how long he had to live, 13-year-old Fagundes took a positive mindset as he began his treatment.

“I just thought I had to live every day like it’s my last because you never know when it will be and so I fought it,” Fagundes said. “The whole time was just a fight and obviously, it was emotionally draining so just being here today, it means a lot.”

Fagundes had his family for support during his treatments. While Jacob was confident from the beginning of his chemotherapy, that did not make it any easier for his family as they stood by his side.

“As a parent, it was hard to see someone who hasn’t been able to live much of his life now have to start worrying about that type of thing,” Jacob’s mother Shera Fagundes said. “You just wish you could take it away from them and put it on yourself.”

Instead of worrying about making the El Diamante baseball roster in his freshman year, Jacob had to worry about six rounds of chemotherapy. The cancer eventually went into remission, but Jacob was later re-diagnosed and needed a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, his older brother Joey was the perfect match and donated his bone marrow to save Jacob’s life.

Jacob did have a bad reaction to the transplant, however, as he had to remain in the hospital for five more months. But he had finally beaten cancer thanks to his sheer will and the support from his family and community.

“I couldn’t have done it without my family, my friends, God and my community,” Jacob said. “I had to stay positive. I just thought that I’d rather it be me than someone I love. I’d rather be going through it than my brother, my mom, my dad or any of my loved ones.”

Throughout his battles, returning to baseball was always the focus for Jacob. Right when he was born, Jacob’s father put a baseball in his hands. Then at the age of two, Jacob finally got on the diamond and has been obsessed with the sport ever since.

“Baseball is my everything. Everyone who knows me knows Jacob Fagundes knows baseball,” Jacob said. “So being able to get back out here again, it means absolutely everything to me.”

“He loves the sport, he loves playing it and he loves watching it,” Shera said. “Just in every way, it’s been a part of his life.”

Along with his motivation to return to baseball, Jacob watched baseball to get his mind off his cancer treatment. From watching his friends play at Redwood High School to watching the San Francisco Giants make a run in 2021, sports helped Jacob make it through his battles. 

“Being able to watch sports that entire time while I was in the hospital, it just really helped me push through it and kept me entertained,” Jacob said. “It kept my mind off of everything that was going on inside his body.”

In 2022, Jacob met his future head coach Andrew Riddle. As Jacob was battling cancer at the time, Riddle saw first hand how much Jacob loved baseball and how it helped him make it through his battles.

“Baseball was his motivation,” Riddle said. “That was his motivation to get back and overcome so that was kind of the summit of his battle.”

But even after beating cancer twice, a new obstacle stood between Jacob and the baseball field. In late 2022, Jacob was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, which was caused by the steroids he took after his bone marrow transplant. The steroids had eaten away at the bones in his ankles and they had begun to collapse, which resulted in a Visalia doctor telling Jacob he would likely never run again.

“That was heartbreaking because my whole goal the entire time throughout my journey was to be able to play baseball again,” Jacob said.

Not one to give up, Jacob sought a second opinion and found Dr. Kevin Shea from Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Dr. Shea happened to be a Mt. Whitney High School graduate and he performed an experimental surgery where he took Fagundes’ bone marrow and injected it back into his ankles. Thanks to Dr. Shea, Jacob was finally able to make his return to baseball.

“This is what I had been working for this whole time. To be able to come back out here and play the game that I love every day,” Jacob said. “It’s my happy place and it’s where I feel comfortable.”

“To see him push through that pain and do what he loves to do is just amazing,” Shera said. “No matter the outcome, it’s just an incredible amount of pride and joy. An overwhelming feeling of ‘Wow, he did this.’ He did this himself, because he would have never been able to do it without putting the work in.”

In his junior year after overcoming his health battles, Jacob served as an equipment manager for the Miners. And now for his senior year, he finally joined the squad as a player.

As he heads into the final few weeks of high school baseball career, Jacob hopes to have fun with his team. Once he wraps up high school, Jacob plans to attend Fresno State in order to study mass communication and journalism in order to become a sports broadcaster and remain involved in baseball and other sports.

After the past four years, Jacob has fought and survived more battles than most will face in their lifetimes. So as he heads into the future, he has learned to appreciate every single moment going forward.

“You have to live every day like it’s your last because you never know when it will be,” Jacob said. “Just never take a day for granted because it’s precious. You never know when it will be your last pitch so that was a really important thing to me.”

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