FARMINGTON – Justin Solomon demonstrated the proper swing of a baseball bat earlier this month as he worked with young hitters at The Strike Zone, a Farmington baseball training facility.
The youngsters at The Strike Zone know the former Piedra Vista High School player as Coach Soly and look to him for baseball advice. And while Solomon said he is enjoying coaching youngsters at The Strike Zone, he does not think he will play baseball again.
Solomon lost part of his vision due to cancer. The story of his battle from his mother’s point of view is detailed in a book, “The Tenth Inning,” which was released this month.
Solomon’s mother, Jennifer Staley, said the book’s title comes from watching baseball games. She said things often change during extra innings.
“They dig a little deeper, and they give a little more and you find out how much they want that win,” she said.
Staley said Solomon risked everything, including his life, to try to put the illness behind him. The search for a cure took Staley and Solomon away from Farmington. They moved to Houston, then to North Carolina and Chicago.
Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, Solomon was an integral part of the Piedra Vista baseball team’s state title run.
And in 2011, Solomon used crutches to hobble onto the field during the Connie Mack City Tournament to throw two pitches for the Rivercats so the team would have nine players to start the game, as the rules required. It was after that game that he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which affects the white blood cells in bone marrow.
Because of the cancer, Solomon needed a bone marrow transplant. Staley wanted to donate bone marrow to her son, but she was deemed a poor match.
“As a mother, that’s a very helpless feeling,” she said.
Despite undergoing treatment for cancer and moving to Houston, Solomon graduated from Piedra Vista in 2012 and was symbolically drafted in the 35th round by the Colorado Rockies in the MLB First Year Player Draft.
When Solomon later needed a kidney transplant, doctors were hesitant to perform the surgery because they did not believe he would survive it. Staley said Solomon told her, “Sometimes, you have to take big risks to get big rewards.”
They found a surgeon in Chicago who was willing to perform the surgery. While Staley was not a match for the bone marrow donation, she was able to donate her kidney to her son. On Aug. 29, 2014, Solomon had the kidney transplant and survived the procedure.
“For the first time in three years, I didn’t feel as helpless,” Staley said.
After the surgery, Staley and Solomon often went for walks together in Chicago. She said she began to cry when Solomon felt well enough to start running.
“I didn’t know if he’d ever be able to do that again,” she said.
In 2015, Solomon moved to Utah with friends and began working. Staley said one of his friends later sent her a video of Solomon wake surfing.
“He was doing what he had fought so hard to be able to do,” she said.
But Solomon wasn’t in the clear yet. In November 2016, a mass was found in Solomon’s bladder. The mass was removed, but tests showed that it was cancerous.
“It was like I’d been punched in the stomach,” Staley said.
Part of Solomon’s bladder was removed, and he has been in remission since then. His mother is hopeful but cautious about his future.
“I don’t know if that will always be the case,” Staley said.