Niagara softball alum Jenna Baker, ’10 overcame many obstacles during her four-year career at Monteagle Ridge en route to becoming one of the more prolific power hitters in recent history. As a Purple Eagle, the West Seneca, NY native hit .288 with 61 extra-base hits, 23 of which were home runs.
Her next challenge will take all the power she could muster to hit it out of the park.
Approximately a year ago, a lump on her gums made the former Niagara outfielder apprehensive, heading to see an oral surgeon. An exhausting process, multiple visits were made before a clue was found.
“The oral surgeon lanced my gums thinking it was just an infection,” Baker said. “The problem was that my gums didn’t drain, so I had to wait for the stitches to heal and then get it lanced again. The second lancing is where they found the mass.”
About a week later, the oral surgeon called Jenna back to confirm that the mass was indeed B-Cell lymphoma, a diagnosis that worried her more than any inside curve ball could ever do.
“I was very taken back and couldn’t believe what I had heard,” Baker said. “The hardest part was telling my mother over the phone while I was hours away in Hudson Falls with my fiance. I remember the worst part was not knowing, as it took a few weeks for the full diagnosis.”
One thing that Baker did know, however, was that she has a huge support group at Niagara University to help her battle B-Cell lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects B-Cells, typically growing in older adults.
“It’s completely unbelievable to have a support group that stays with you even after graduation,” Baker said. “Coming into college as a freshman to play a sport, I thought it would be go to class and play softball. I was so happy to make a second family there. The team and coaching staff have been amazing with everything.”
One former student-athlete who went above and beyond to help Baker was NU softball alum Melissa Markle, ’09. Markle has known Baker for the longest time, going to high school with her and her older sister Lisa, as well as being teammates at Niagara.
Now the head softball coach at Hilbert College, Markle used plenty of inspiration to put together SLAMphoma. This home run derby between the two softball teams will raise funds to alleviate the financial burden that Baker’s treatments are causing. Fans can sponsor a hitter for every home run she hits, or donate a flat fee during the May 8 event (1 p.m.) at Niagara University’s softball field, all of which will be donated to the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, in Jenna’s name.
“The event is an honor,” Baker said. “Melissa truly outdid herself, along with the Niagara and Hilbert softball teams. I think it is an awesome way to raise awareness for a great cause and have fun while doing it.”
The inaugural SLAMphoma is just another way that Markle and the Purple Eagles are able to give back to the community.
“Niagara means a lot to me,” Baker said. “They have been a huge part of my support system in helping me get through all of this. It has been undeniably been the best school ever. The softball team and staff have been amazing and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them!”