Jake Holtzapple had a career year for the Providence baseball team last season. As a junior third baseman he posted a school-record 50 hits and batted .455
Holtzapple earned nearly every distinction possible – All-American, all-state, all-Charlotte Observer, all-SoMeck8 conference. He also helped the Panthers to a state record 31 wins (31-4 overall) and a 4A state championship. He also was named the Greater Charlotte area Hot Stove player of the year.
Holtzapple has committed to play baseball at the University of North Carolina.
While everything seemed to be going right for Holtzapple, he had a daily battle behind the scenes.
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You are going to run in some obstacles. But when you take on those obstacles and overcome them, it only makes you stronger. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been now.
Holtzapple was diagnosed with colitis in October 2014. He noticed the symptoms of the disease (an inflammation of the colon) when he was playing in a tournament in Florida.
Holtzapple experienced abdominal pain, and was so fatigued that he says he couldn’t finish games. The pain was so bad that he had two stints in the hospital. He lost 20 pounds and was unable to do much.
“There was a time in November that year, where I visited Jake in the hospital and I wasn’t sure if he was going to survive,” said Providence baseball coach Danny Hignight, who says he “bawled like baby when he visited Jake.”
“At that point in time, we weren’t worried about baseball at all. We just wanted Jake to get better.
“For Jake to go from that point in a couple months to the junior season he had is remarkable.”
Holtzapple said even in the toughest times, getting back to playing baseball was his motivation.
“When I was diagnosed with colitis, I really didn’t know what it was, so I didn’t know what to think,” said Holtzapple.
He said he couldn’t have made it without the support of his father, Scott, mother, Kerry, and sister, Erin.
“But there were some days where I didn’t know if I would be able to play baseball again and that was a scary feeling,” he said. “What kept me going in those tough times was trying to getting back on the field. I knew we had a great team coming back and I wanted to be there to help my teammates. I love the game so much, that even a day without playing baseball was tough. So, I just tried to focus on doing everything I could to get back.”
Holtzapple will have to live with his condition and deal with it daily, but he is feeling much better now. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he is responding to his medicine and has adjusted his diet.
“One of the worst things I’ve ever had to go through is watching our child suffer and not being able to do that much about it,” said Scott Holtzapple. “Just to see Jake with a smile on his face and to see him enjoying what a high school senior should be enjoying is great. ... He has been through a lot. But this whole process has really showed me what Jake is made of.”
Jake hopes his senior year will be his best.
So far, he is batting .500 with only one strikeout for a Panther team (14-1) that has been ranked as high as No. 3 in the country, according to maxpreps.com.
Holtzapple is one of three four-year starters in Hignight’s 13-year tenure. The others are Richie Shaffer (now playing for Tampa Bay Devil Rays) and Brett Austin (playing in Chicago White Sox organization).
Hignight said Holtzapple has a chance to become the school’s all-time leader in hits.
Holtzapple said he’s simply trying to enjoy every moment with his team, particularly with senior classmates Zach Brown, Logan Davidson (Clemson signee), Tucker Jones, Matthew Kagan, Matt Madrazo and Price Pittman, who have grown up together at Providence.
But they all would love to repeat as state champions.
“It would be awesome to win it all back-to-back to finish our Providence careers, but that is not our focus right now,” Holtzapple said. “Our focus is just on getting better every day.”
Holtzapple has the same daily focus on coping with ups and downs of his physical health. What could have been the end of his baseball career, has only made him stronger.
“I definitely appreciate being able to just go out and play baseball every day a little more after what I’ve been through in the past two years,” he said. “But what I’ve learned most really applies to life in general. You are going to run in some obstacles. But when you take on those obstacles and overcome them, it only makes you stronger. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been now. That mentality is something that will help me for the rest of my life.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.