When you’re born in a small town, you don’t leave. You stay, you build your family there. In Wymore, Nebraska, a town too small for a varsity baseball team, you farmed or you worked in the factory. Jake Diekman knew he had to escape, and when the Phillies offered him a line, just six months after the sudden loss of his mother, he grabbed it and rode out of his fate.
On the surface, he looks like a regular Joe — or Jake, you might say. Diekman turned 32 in the offseason. He’s a smiley, lanky, 6’4” pitcher with a slight midwestern drawl. He doesn’t strike you as something out of the ordinary, until you learn what he battled through to get here.
The fact that Jake Diekman is still alive and breathing is beyond belief, never mind the fact that he’s playing professional baseball, and pitching well on top of that. The body does incredible stuff when under pressure, and that’s exactly what Diekman’s did.
Diekman was 10 when he was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis — a kind of inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s. Diekman’s symptoms subsided as he got older and it wasn’t until 2014 when his disease flared up again. He dropped 20lbs in two weeks. In 2017, Diekman finally went through three surgeries at Mayo Clinic that left him with two scars on his belly and his guts in a pouch. Specifically, he underwent a colectomy to remove his colon, and had to wear an ostomy bag for several weeks.
Nine months later, Jake was back on the mound. Though the recovery was painful — mentally and physically — his resolve to return to baseball, to prove he could overcome the thing that tried so hard to take him down, pulled him through the dark days of his path back.
Among the supporters was his wife and caretaker, Amanda, with whom he started the Gut It Out Foundation. Diekman had always been open about his battles with the disease — the good, the bad, and the icky of it — and the two were ready to create a space so that others going through the same thing could find solace and support. In addition to outside donations, he chips in $100 for every strikeout he records.
He has also been open about when things didn’t go so great, and what Amanda’s resolve and love did to help him get out of those places.
Jake also shared the visuals on his Instagram page, so other people going through the same thing could use his journey as a resource and to feel more strength and comfort in their own situation.
However, his battle with health was not the only struggle he faced. Just months prior to being drafted by the Phillies, Jake lost his mother, Billie Jean, to heart failure.
Billie was from California, but she moved to Nebraska to open her own company called Earthbound Promotion. She scouted the plains, pinpointing the perfect places for Hollywood bigs to come shoot on site. She acted in local theater productions, she played a florist in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), and through all that, supported a son’s journey to play baseball ... at a high school not big enough to support a team.
On February 4th, 2007, Billie Jean passed away. Diekman intended to go to University of Nebraska, the school his mother had wanted him to attend, but when he got the call from the Phillies six months after his mom passed, he grabbed it. It was a way out and a way up.
Nowadays, Jake has worked to fight through the worst of life to get to enjoy the best. He has a daughter now, named Palmer Billie Diekman, and is immersed in his foundation and baseball. He goes to therapy, and is not afraid to admit the impact it’s had on his outlook. He’s in a good place, but Billie Jean is still there with him — every time the National Anthem plays, he closes his eyes and shares the moment with her.
Except now, it’s a happy moment.
One way Diekman commemorates these two major parts of his life is with tattoos. He has one on his wrist that says “Gut It Out,” which has been an inspirational mantra for him in addition to the name of his foundation. And on his chest he wears one that says “Billie Jean.”
Along their child, Jake and Amanda (aka Miss Nebraska USA 2014) also have two really cute dogs, Sunny and Tucker, who are also featured prominently on his Instagram!
Jake is also the cofounder of Elite Jerky, with his friend, Jesse Smith. They handcraft small-batch jerky and ship worldwide. Yum!
With the rush to the playoffs underway, the A’s needed to add something strong to their jumble of a bullpen. What better something than a veteran southpaw with a nasty slider and a high-90’s heater and the guts to go all-out toward his dreams? Yeah, that sounds pretty good!