Luke Metzker, a rising senior at Bishop Manogue High, had to endure something no child should face. But instead of letting that pull him into darkness and depression, Metzker has dedicated his life to making his parents proud, even if they're not here in person to cheer him on.
“Everything I do is for my parents," Metzker told Nevada Sports Net.
At just 7 years old, Metzker lost his father, JK, the long-time popular sports director from KTVN-TV, Channel 2. JK was a father of three boys he cherished and a loving husband who died in November 2011 when he was struck by a car driven by a 23-year-old drunk driver in a hit and run following a Nevada football game. Luke’s father was known for his passion for life, love for his family and friends, his homemade videos, his humor and a dedication to his career.
Luke Metzker remembers going to hit at the local Little League field with his cousin the following day when he returned to the life-changing news.
"I just went and hit on the baseball field,” Metzker said. “It was just like any other day. And then I came home and there were a bunch of cars outside and all of my friends and family friends were there. Then my mom sat me and my brothers down and told us. Honestly, the rest of that day was just kind of a blur.”
The heartbreak didn’t end there. Two years later, Luke’s mother, Jaimie, died following a six-year hard-fought battle with breast cancer. Before his 10th birthday, Luke Metzker had lost both of his parents in heart-breaking fashion.
“She passed away when I was 9,” Luke said. “I was a little older, but that was hard for me because I didn’t know who I was gonna go live with. I didn’t know anything. I obviously knew it was gonna happen because she had been fighting breast cancer for so long and was so strong. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. She was everything to me at that point. I love my mom so much. She was the strongest person in the world. That was really hard for me.”
Jaimie was known for her generosity, using her own story and that of her husband to help raise money for others in similar situations. She courageously and publicly forgave the man who turned her world upside down when he struck JK, leading to his death. Jaimie did not press charges, saying she wanted to make sure his life wasn't ruined despite the pain he caused the Metzker family.
“She was just that type of person," Luke said. "Even though he ruined her life, she wasn’t going to do that because she was the sweetest and kindest person that I’ve ever met. She had all the empathy in the world, and she would never do something like that.”
Jaimie was the youngest of six girls. When she died, her older sister, Debra Gerbatz, stepped up in a big way, providing a loving home for Luke and his brothers Tommy and Tanner. Luke said the love of his aunt and uncle has changed his life and kept him on the right path.
“My aunt and uncle have helped me so much through this process,” Metzker said. “They have taught me to be respectful, have manners and always be a good kid and always do everything for my parents. They taught me, I can’t be ‘poor me’ because honestly life moves on and there’s always going to be those times that I’m grieving and I’m sad, but I just gotta be happy that they were there for me and happy I have all these memories with them.”
While his time with his parents was limited, Metzker is thankful for the memories he shared with his parents. A broadcast journalist by trade, JK Metzker also loved making home-made videos, many of which Luke still has. One of those videos stand out above the others.
“My fondest memory of my dad is when I was in first grade,” Luke said with a smile. “He pulled me and my brothers out of school and we all thought we were going to a dentist appointment, but he took us to a Reno Aces game instead. And he had all of our hats and gloves hidden behind this little wall at school when he pulled us out and it was a big surprise.”
Metzker has the video of the memory he cherishes. Luke knew from an early age he would follow in his father’s footsteps with his passion for sports. When they'd binge on television together, it was sports games they'd watch instead of cartoons.
“We’d watch Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions and Luke Babbitt," Metzker said. "I just loved all sports. And then when the Aces came to town, I remember watching all their games and just loving it.”
Sports sometimes took JK away from his family at inopportune times, including Luke's birth. JK was covering the Wolf Pack basketball team's Sweet 16 run in 2004 when Luke was born. Nevada beat No. 2-ranked Gonzaga the day before Luke's birth to clinch its first appearance in the Sweet 16.
“It's a funny story, actually," Luke said. "I was born March 21st, so they called me the March Madness baby because Nevada made it to the tournament of course that year. And he actually had to cover it in Washington when I was being born. So he wasn’t there for it. He was covering March Madness on TV.”
Luke said he understands why his dad missed his birth and holds no resentment for that. He just wish he had more times with his parents. While overcoming his grief, Metzker leaned into his family, friends and baseball. Those things turned his pain into motivation to keep going. It was baseball that specifically helped him focus his energy into something positive.
“I started playing when I was 4 years old, and you’re suppose to play when you’re 5, but my mom faked my birth certificate so I could play a year early with my brothers," Luke said. "So I’ve always known I’ve loved baseball since I was little.”
Metzker has risen up the ranks to become of the area's best players. As a junior for Bishop Manogue last season, he was one of the region's best pitchers and helped the Miners reach the regional championship game. Beyond his impact on the field, he draws rave reviews for his leadership and personality in the dugout.
“Luke’s a super kid,” Bishop Manogue head coach Charles Oppio said. “I can’t fathom what he’s been through. If you’re having a tough day personally or going through stuff and then you come to practice or a game and you see Luke, the spirit he has, he’s a great teammate, he’s a leader, a super kid.
“It kind of makes your problems insignificant when you think about the life he’s had and what he’s gone through. I just love being around him and so does everybody else. He could have went two ways with this. He’s so positive, such a good kid and he appreciates being out here and he appreciates opportunities. I don’t know how he does it.”
Still, things are not always easy for Metzker, the youngest of JK and Jaimie's three children. Christmas and Thanksgiving aren't spent with mom and dad. Birthdays are tough. The memories many kids take for granted haven't been available to Luke and his brothers. He tries not to dwell on those, but sometimes his mind drifts to the experiences he's missed.
"We've had some bad days," Oppio said. "I like to tease him and try to keep it light for him. He tries to hold it in, which has gotta be tough a kid that age. There's special days. Birthdays and stuff like that gets to him and we get through it. Thank god he's out here on the field with his teammates. I think it's great for him.
"And his family, the Gerbatzs, are unbelievable people. Very supportive of the program, and you can tell with what they've done for Luke."
Metzker's goal is to play Division I baseball to help college get paid for. He wants to study pre-dental and become an orthodontist and dentist. He's thankful for the Bishop Manogue baseball programs, his coaches and teammates helping him every day. Metzker continues to push forward as he honors his mom by wearing pink shoes on the field while channeling his dad with his dedication to the game.
As Metzker takes on the journey of life, he knows that his parents will be watching and rooting for him every step of the way.