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Layton High baseball honors longtime area coach Jeff Nakaishi after sudden cancer diagnosis

By BOB JUDSON - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Mar 15, 2024
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Layton High head baseball coach Robert Ferneau pushes the wheelchair holding longtime assistant Jeff Nakaishi before a game on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Layton. Nakaishi was honored during the game after his sudden diagnosis of lymphoma.
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Wearing a T-shirt honoring his grandfather, Jeff Nakaishi, Layton High's Tate Mikesell warms up to bat on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Layton.
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Jeff Nakaishi, seated, presents Layton High baseball's lineup card to Bingham coach Joey Sato and umpires before a game Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Layton.
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The front of a T-shirt made to honor longtime area baseball coach Jeff Nakaishi at a game Thursday, March 14, 2024, at Layton High School.
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Layton High's Tate Mikesell makes a warmup throw to first base on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Layton.
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Justin Nakaishi tosses a ball around before a game where Layton High honored his father, Jeff Nakaishi, on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Layton.

LAYTON — For more than 50 years, Layton assistant coach Jeff Nakaishi has been a beacon and a mentor to hundreds of high school baseball players all over northern Utah.

That light has significantly dimmed since late February when Nakaishi was hospitalized for two weeks, diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma and given only weeks to live.

A recent checkup changed the prognosis to only days, not weeks — unfavorable to Nakaishi’s bucket list items of seeing his underclassman grandson Tate Mikesell play varsity baseball and graduate from high school.

So Layton head coach Robert Ferneau arranged for Mikesell to start at second base and bat leadoff for the Lancers against Bingham on Thursday afternoon.

Nakaishi watched the game from a recliner in the dugout, in which the Lancers came from behind for a 10-8 win, but the results were secondary to the memorable events of the day.

“We were celebrating Jeff Nakaishi’s life, basically. It’s coming to an end rather quickly,” Ferneau said. “He wanted to see his grandson play high school baseball. He was not going to get that opportunity, so we provided that for him.”

Mikesell did not have a play in the field during the top of the first inning, but walked to lead off the bottom half at the plate. Ferneau sent in a pinch runner and Mikesell was off to a wrestling meet, his special day done.

“I’m a little nervous about tomorrow; I want to do good that first inning,” Mikesell told the Standard-Examiner on Wednesday night before the game. “(Nakaishi) has coached my comp team and wanted to see me play a high school game. I’m really excited to play at the varsity level. That will be a cool experience for me.”

Nakaishi graduated from Layton High in 1973 and started coaching the summer program in 1974. He tutored his son Justin at Bonneville and either coached or assisted Justin with stops along the way at Weber, Roy and Syracuse high schools.

Daughter Jenica Mikesell (Tate’s mother) was coached by Nakaishi in girls fast pitch softball at Clearfield in 1998.

Except for a brief break, Ferneau said Nakaishi has been at Layton for the past 17-18 years. Nakaishi is also the American Legion state president and president of longtime Weber County staple SavOn Sporting Goods.

In 2020, COVID-19 threw a curveball at Nakaishi and he has been on oxygen ever since.

When the family returned from Las Vegas on President’s Day, Nakaishi wasn’t feeling well and ended up at the University of Utah where he received the mortal news.

“There was nothing they could do for him because his body was so beat up from COVID,” Justin Nakaishi said. “He was basically sent home to die.”

Then the time frame was moved up, which led to Thursday’s well-orchestrated activities, starting with batting practice at 1 p.m.

Jeff Nakaishi was pushed in a wheelchair to home plate and presented the lineup card to Bingham High coach Joey Sato before the game, then his three children — Justin, Jason and Jenica –simultaneously threw out ceremonial first pitches to a trio of the elder Nakaishi’s former players.

Derrick Thomas and Trevor Thomas, who played for Jeff Nakaishi at Layton High, and Burk Benton, the son of a friend Jeff’s had for 62 years, served as the catchers.

Both Layton and Bingham’s coaching staffs and teams wore honorary T-shirts with a caricature of Jeff Nakaishi’s famous mustachioed face on it — the Lancers in their home whites with blue numerals and the Miners sporting royal blue with white trim.

Tate Mikesell wore uniform No. 7 in honor of his grandfather, his number from his playing days.

“His last wish was to see his grandson play a varsity game. Dad said ‘I just want to make it through Thursday. I just want to see Tate play.’ It turns out we had less time than we thought,” Justin Nakaishi said. “That’s why this game was so important to the family. It involves dad’s family and baseball family. We know there’s two different families there.”

It’s been said that there is nothing more certain than death and taxes — but death can be much more taxing. Jeff Nakaishi was able to make the best of a bad thing Thursday, and he truly lived a wonderful life.

“It was awesome; couldn’t be any better. It was great,” Jeff Nakaishi said after the game. “I’m happy. It made my dreams come true.”


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