Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Independence’s Mark Echstenkamper returns to the diamond

Until last summer, Mark Echstenkamper had been a fixture at Independence High School baseball games as the Blue Devils’ head coach for the past 20 years.

A bout with Cancer sidelined Echstenkamper for the 2019 season. He made a triumphant return to the field at Canal Park in Akron during the Northeast Ohio Baseball Coaches’ Association all-star games on Saturday.

“It meant a tremendous amount to me,” said Echstenkamper, who coached one of the Cuyahoga County teams. “It was May of 2018 since I was in uniform and back on a baseball field. It was like the beginning of a comeback.”

Echstenkamper’s journey back to the diamond wasn’t an easy one, not since that fateful day back on June 2, 2018.

He woke up with “the worst headache of my life behind my right eye and right temple,” and later visited the emergency room where the doctors discovered a four-centimeter tumor on the right temporal lobe of his brain.

The diagnosis was Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM).

Echstenkamper endured two brain surgeries and weeks of radiation to remove the tumor. He followed up that treatment with months of chemotherapy, which ended with a clean scan on May 22.

“It is by the grace of God and the support and prayers of many people that I am where I am today,” Echstenkamper said. “The doctors and support staff at the Cleveland Clinic Tausigg Cancer Center have been amazing.”

Itching to return to the field, Echstenkamper jumped at the chance to coach in the all-star game, which included Independence seniors Jordan Mallernee and Sam Belitz.

“It was a lot of fun talking baseball with the guys in the dugout and on the field and seeing my fellow coaches,” he said. “It was like being normal again running onto the field. It was a very special day for me. I am so blessed by God to be where I’m at through this journey.”

Under the bright shine of the sun with a cool breeze and the sweet sounds of his favorite pastime occupying his senses, Echstenkamper realized several things in his return to the diamond.

“One, how much we take for granted the things we have done so many times before. It can all be taken away in the blink of an eye,” he said. “Two, how much I love the game of baseball and missed coaching, and three, it’s been a long journey.”

Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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