Just before Amarillo Sod Poodles righty Lake Bachar took the Hodgetown mound Friday night, he paused behind the mound.
To those watching in the stands, Bachar’s routine may not have looked like much. You know, just another pitcher pausing to focus before his outing.
They’d be wrong.
To Bachar, the pre-first routine, which includes kissing a tattoo of a ribbon representing cancer, is life.
And his dad, David’s life.
David, 55, surprised his teary-eyed 24-year-old son Friday night arriving to Hodgetown from Lombard, Ill., days removed from his nasty 33rd round fight with chemotherapy.
Lake knew this weekend with his Sod Poodles teammates and fans would spark deep emotions.
Amarillo Sod Poodles pitcher got a surprise from his father, David Bachar, who showed up to Hodgetown Friday Night. [John Moore/Press Pass Sports]
The San Diego Padres and Sod Poodles management had thrown away that “this is a cold business” reputation minor leagues get by honoring David Bachar with #Bacharstrong night.
Saturday night the Sod Poodles wore special throwback gold and brown jerseys with a “Bachar Strong” on the sleeve and “No One Fights Alone” on the back.
The jerseys will be auctioned off after Saturday’s game with proceeds helping the Bachar’s expenses over David’s cancer.
Lake said during interviews all week prior to Saturday no way his dad, or his stepmom, Lisa, would be able to make the trip to Amarillo.
“The cancer started as a cancerous tumor in his esophagus and spread to his lungs, liver and abdomen,” Lake said. “A couple months after the diagnosis it spread to his brain. Surgery took care of the brain tumor. We have always kind of known the cancer is incurable.”
Lake explained how thankful he is the chemo treatments have helped pause the cancer to a controllable state.
“But the cancer has come back a little so he’s back home on the hard chemo treatments,” Lake said earlier in the week during an interview in the Sod Poodles home dugout, “he can’t make it.
David and Lisa, with help from Sod Poodles management, were there before Friday’s Sod Poodles game, along with Lake’s fiance Stephanie, surprising Lake on the field.
Hugs. Tears. More hugs. More tears.
That’s what David and Lake shared for all the public to see and admire. Anyone with a heart that beats cried along with them.
Really, anybody watching Lake Bachar’s athletic career thought the NFL, not the MLB, might be his calling.
In fact, his first year in college at Division III University of Wisconsin-Whitewater he spent kicking and punting for the football team, not playing baseball.
He departed college as a kicker and punter for the DIII national champions, but also showed remarkable skills on the pitching mound and was the first DIII baseball player picked in the 2016 MLB draft by the Padres.
But nothing in life, not athletic greatness, not national championship glory, not the grit of moving through a minor league system toward the big leagues, prepares a man for the word “cancer.”
That word came via face time conversation between David and Lake in January of 2018. Lake was a long way from Illinois playing on a baseball team called the Caberra Cavalry.
“I was in Australia,” Lake said. “I was playing winter ball and we face timed. I’m trying to tell you specifically how it went. What he told me was ‘there is nothing you can do right now. I want you to continue to fulfill your dream. I want you to continue to compete.’ He was the one who stressed to me to pursue your dream. That’s my dad.”
Despite being “in shock” over the cancer news, Lake Bachar headed the advice of his dad and stayed in Australia the remaining two weeks.
Bachar also knew “my dad was in good hands with my stepmom carrying for him. Really good hands, so that helped.”
Once back in Illinois, Bachar had only two weeks before he would head off to spring training.
While conversations with his dad aren’t rare, Bachar took the time to get in some heartfelt chats with the man who taught to him how to throw a baseball.
“You know, you never know how long he’s going to be alive,” Bachar said of making sure every hour of those 14 days with his dad were meaningful. “I tried to soak it all in. A lot of heart-to-heart talks. It could have been the last time I saw him.”
Of course, it wasn’t.
But that doesn’t mean those nights wondering, the worry, the constant thought of my dad fighting cancer didn’t live with Lake 24-7.
Sod Poodles current manager Phillip Wellman, was Lake’s manager in San Antonio last year.
“Last year was a rough year for Lake,” Wellman said. “I don’t know this for sure because I’ve never talked to him about it, but I’ve got to believe his dad is a pretty strong fellow. He and his dad must have had some good talks in the off-season because Lake is at peace with what’s going on regardless of where it may end up. The weight of this thing is unbearable, I’m sure and makes it hard to focus. We all hope and pray for the Bachar family.”
Last year in San Antonio Bachar was 3-7 with a 5.59 earned run average.
This year with the Sod Poodles, despite a hiccup on Thursday night in relief, he is in the running for Texas League pitcher of the year at 7-4 and owner of a spiffy 3.64 ERA.
“Lake’s had a great year,” Wellman said. “He’s been our most consistent starter. What makes it more admirable in my eyes and the San Diego Padres’ eyes, is we all know what’s going on.”
What’s going on Saturday night is simply put, way cool. In the cutthroat world of pro sports, Bachar Strong Night is all about helping a family going through a tough time, all about heart, all about taking care of one your own.
Wellman and Lake Bachar couldn’t me more proud to be members of the Padres organization.
“I think it’s tremendous in this day and age to see an organization have a players back,” Wellman said. “You come across things in life that at times that are completely out of your control. I think it’s a true testimony there are some really good people in this world. Humans helping humans is never a bad thing.”
Said Lake: “I know the Padres, this year and last year, were in full support of me and said any time you need to go home they would let me. It really shows you how much the Padres organization does care about you. We just aren’t out here to throw up stats for them.”
What Lake Bachar does is throw stuff that gets hitters out.
Those first throws of his baseball life arrived in his backyard.
“Really, my dad and I did everything (sportswise) when I was kid,” Lake said. “I played everything. We were outside a lot. Whether playing catch, or like rolling me grounders, or him shagging balls for me because I was a kicker. He helped me a lot. He was always there for me.”
David Bachar, one heck of a racquetball player in his day, will always be with his son, Lake.
“I’m so proud of my dad,” Lake said. “He always has been a competitor. He played racquetball at a level just below pro. My best memory of that is we’d always play teams and do pretty well handling his friends. He’d beat me up pretty bad if we went one on one.
“So after my last warm up pitch I walk to the back of the mound, like, toward second, and I look up and say ‘Let’s go.’ I then kiss my cancer tattoo for my dad. And then I just say play with my heart. Just be like a little kid out there and have fun and compete.”
Sod Poodle pitcher Lake Bachar hugs his father, David, who surprised him Friday Night at Hodgetown. [John Moore/Press Pass Sports]
Rounding the bases with Lake Bachar
How’d you get the name Lake?
“I don’t even know. My parents just liked unusual names. I just remember my grandma hated it. She thought it sounded like a resort. She caught on to it and liked it, though.”
What’s it like playing in front of packed houses at Hodgetown?
“It’s electric. They are so into it. We go to a lot of stadiums and there could be a good amount of people, but they aren’t into it. With our fans, they are into the game, they are cheering, they are yelling when there is a bad call. There are totally in with us. Players love that.”
What’s the craziest superstition, you or one of your teammates has?
“We have a couple of guys, especially our hitters, if they are going through a slump they will shower with a full uniform on to wash away the bad juju.”
If you were a hitter facing you, and one of those extreme infield shifts were put on, would you bunt against you for a hit?
“For sure. You gotta get a hit. Especially with me. I think I’m 0-for-4 for the year? I need a hit.”