At the heart of Prairie's baseball title

Hawks receive emotional lift when leader's dad attends final one day after heart attack

Cedar Rapids Prairie players embrace after defeating Iowa City West in the class 4A championship game at the 2016 state baseball tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines on Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Prairie players embrace after defeating Iowa City West in the class 4A championship game at the 2016 state baseball tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines on Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Tyler Nunemaker was on top of the world.

Cedar Rapids Prairie had just beaten Waukee in its first state baseball semifinal appearance Friday, assuring he’d end his senior campaign in the championship game. Then, his world briefly crashed around him when he learned his father, Vance, had suffered a heart attack earlier that day.

“(My mom) pulled me aside and told me,” Nunemaker said. “My stomach just dropped. I got pretty emotional, obviously.”

The emotional roller coaster ascended again when both father and son were at Principal Park in Des Moines on Saturday as the top-ranked Hawks captured their first state baseball title with a 12-3 victory over second-seeded Iowa City West.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Nunemaker said. “He said he wasn’t going to miss it for anything.”

The elder Nunemaker’s string of attending his son’s events, including football games and track meets, was in jeopardy. He woke up with some discomfort in his chest. The feeling didn’t subside and became critical when he ran up a flight of steps at work.

“That’s about all it took,” Vance Nunemaker said. “The next thing you know I’m in an ambulance heading for the hospital.”

The 54-year-old recalled some pain during Wednesday’s quarterfinal win over Davenport West, chalking it up to nerves and anxiety that he experiences for some of his son’s competitions. He thought that might be the case again, but doctors confirmed the heart attack, informing him at least one artery was completely blocked. He underwent a procedure to place three stents in his arteries.


“The hospital did an amazing job,” said Vance Nunemaker, who asked people not to post the news online to shield his son from the news before the semifinal. “They opened me up and got me in my recovery room.

“I was able to watch Friday night’s game live streamed on the computer. I kept looking at my heart rate so I didn’t get too excited.”

He finally was able to relax when the Hawks closed their 4-3 victory. The celebration was cut short when information circulated throughout the team and families.

“No one knew but his family,” Prairie Coach Todd Rima said. “We came out celebrating with our crowd after the game in the parking lot. I came out late because I was changing and our fans are going crazy on one side and I look over and the Nunemaker family on the other. I don’t see his dad but I don’t think anything of it. Then, they are bawling.”

The Hawks immediately rallied around the Nunemakers. Tyler Nunemaker said he estimated about 200 teammates, friends, their families and fans offered kind words and hugs to comfort them. The team wrote inspirational messages on items like gloves and wristbands, dedicating the championship win to Vance Nunemaker.

“There is such a great family atmosphere at Prairie with the coaches, parents and players,” Vance Nunemaker said. “They are all great kids.”

Another battle began. This time with doctors. Vance Nunemaker was determined to return to Des Moines and watch his son’s final game as a Hawk. One doctor strongly discouraged it, while another was more flexible. He warned medical staff that everyone would suffer if he had to settle for livestreaming again.

“I said you can look at me with disdain right now but you do not want me in this hospital tonight,” Vance Nunemaker said with a laugh. “It will be bad for me and everyone around me.”


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The Prairie crowd greeted him with a standing ovation when he arrived. Rima and Tyler Nunemaker gave him a hug before the first pitch.

“It was pretty tough,” the younger Nunemaker said. “It was definitely nice to have him in the stands. I got to see him before the game.”

Nunemaker started on the mound for the title game, throwing two innings and hold West to one run.

“I can’t believe Tyler was able to play with the roller coaster of emotions he suffered from Friday to Saturday,” Vance Nunemaker said. “I know he was drained and he gutted it out and did his best.”

After the game, the team escorted the trophy up to Vance Nunemaker and continued to celebrate. It was well worth the ire from officials, according to Rima.

“To see him there Saturday night was pretty cool,” Rima said. “I think we ticked the state off a little bit because we went up into the stands. ... They wanted to take the trophy up to him.”

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