An early October evening meant for celebration -- but destined for near death -- calls for the Wheeless family to dine at an Italian restaurant and return home, where mom opens birthday gifts.
This is all good for Jack Wheeless, Scott and Andrea's youngest of two sons, except he feels "fat" after indulging in a bit too much chicken Alfredo on this Tuesday.
And while he may feel this way, his appearance hardly reflects it as a toned 6-foot 1 1-2-inch, 190-pound Buchanan High senior five months removed from one of the most impressive seasons the Central Section has known for a pitcher, given the competition -- 12-1 record, 1.18 ERA, only 47 hits allowed in 83 innings and consecutive no-hitters in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
Not settling for that -- and the Long Beach State scholarship that accompanies it -- Wheeless is determined to improve, to train even harder; hence, a run on his favorite 5.2-mile neighborhood course on a wonderful autumn night about to turn horrific.
He changes into a longsleeve red Buchanan shirt, white shorts, white socks, white running shoes, headphones and takes off.
Not to return for four days.
When he does, from Fresno's Community Regional Medical Center, it's with his left elbow crushed -- yes, throwing elbow -- kidney lacerated and appetite for Italian food "forever" removed for all the vomiting from medication.
Wheeless has been struck by a car whose driver, according to witnesses at the time, runs a red light, launching the 18-year-old onto the hood, off the windshield and into the night.
"A witness said I went like 20 to 25 feet into the air, that I looked like a mannequin," he says. "I remember doing a few flips; I think I did three. As I was coming down, I saw the street and everything turned black.
"I didn't feel anything."
The question today is: Does he feel he'll ever pitch competitively again?
"Never a doubt."
The intersection of Clovis and Alluvial avenues is one of the most charming in the community.
The northeast and southwest corners are anchored by the Dry Creek and Cottonwood parks, fronted with matching classic stone pillars and archways. The northwest corner is graced with a two-story mansion nestled under mature, soaring palms.
The intersection, however, is also distinguished by an unusual design.
While Alluvial takes a traditional east-west route here, Clovis Avenue assumes a diagonal position, aiming northwest-southeast.
Not that any of this matters to Wheeless, who has completed exactly 4 miles when he arrives at this point.
There's but a bit more than a mile remaining on a course he has covered a good 40 times: east out of his neighborhood, north on Fowler, west on Nees, south on Peach, east on Alluvial, north on Fowler and back home.
He's increasing his pace. The traffic lights for Alluvial's eastbound traffic are green, he recalls.
Wheeless, zooming through the intersection's north crosswalk, glances down halfway through so as not to clip the median, which kisses the front of the white line.
"I was blasting music in my headphones, so I didn't really hear a whole lot," he says. "I'm like, all right, I'm good to go through this intersection. I looked at the median, hopped over and then all I saw was the headlights."
To his right.
"The car was coming at me so hot," he says, snapping his fingers. "It was a matter of milliseconds. And I remember jumping as high as I possibly could."
He elevates enough to avoid flush contact with a Camry driven by Thae Vang, 50, of Fresno, who would be cited for driving without a valid license and had his car impounded, according to the Clovis Police Department.
"My feet hit the hood, my ribs hit the windshield, shooting me straight up in the air," Wheeless says. "I woke up in the middle of the street, in shock and surrounded by like 20 people I never met before. They asked, 'Are you OK?' And I'm thinking, 'Did I just get hit by a car?' "
He then examines his wounds, specifically, a compound fracture that has his elbow bone piercing the skin: "I looked, but never looked again."
It doesn't take long for an ambulance to arrive: "Seemed like 20 seconds."
A woman at the scene hands Wheeless his own cell phone that somehow survived, also, and he's able to dial his father's number before giving the phone back to her.
Scott and Andrea Wheeless are upstairs at home.
"I answer," she says. "The lady tells me: 'Your son's been hit by a car and the ambulance is on the way.' She was panicked."
Mom flies down the stairs with dad in tow. He drives to the intersection, parks and she bolts to the ambulance now holding their son.
"He's very much in pain," she says. "And I see one of the paramedics say, 'Oh my God, there's a hole in his arm.' And I'm saying in my mind, 'It's his left arm.' "
The golden one.
Dad follows her: "I wasn't even thinking about arm, head, back. My first reaction was, hey, he's alive. What could have happened is beyond belief. Catastrophic."
Most threatening would be internal bleeding caused by the damaged kidney.
"The arm's one thing," Scott Wheeless says, "the bleeding could have killed him."
The bleeding subsides, however, and the elbow is surgically repaired the following day.
Adding to Wheeless' misery is the fact he isn't allowed to eat or drink water for two days because of the internal bleeding.
"I'm so tired and thirsty because I was just on a 5-mile run," he says. "All I wanted was water, but they wouldn't give me any; that was one of the worst parts. And I had this disgusting taste in my mouth because I was throwing up like every 10 minutes. So now I can't eat Italian food anymore. It was a horrible experience."
But for the alternative: "I could have been paralyzed. The injuries were sort of minor, really. They could have been a hell of a lot worse.
"I've never asked, 'Why me?' I'm just really grateful that it wasn't my time, that God kept me alive."
Wheeless sits in Buchanan's first-base dugout smiling now, in practice digs and exposing a frightening, 7-inch scar running up and down his elbow.
The bone, completely healed, is supported by a permanent plate and multiple screws.
Range of motion is the critical issue: "I've regained all but about 20% of complete extension."
The "great challenge," as described by his therapist, Tiffany McCain, is this: "Elbow joints are one of the more difficult joints to get moving again because of their nature. They are more tightly fit in structure, therefore a lot harder to stretch."
She says he's attacking rehabilitation with aggression and determination -- and that's a good thing, a real good thing, for it will give him a chance to return this season. He's been playing catch since December but has yet to throw from the mound.
"He's very driven and hasn't said no to any challenges I've put in front of him," McCain says. "I've had to stretch the arm pretty hard. That can be pretty painful at times, and he's willing to take it. In my opinion, he's the type of patient who has the motivation to be successful in rehabbing his elbow back to a healthy state. And he's on track."
That opinion is shared by not only his current coach, Buchanan's Tom Donald, but also his next one, Long Beach State's Troy Buckley.
"You never want this to happen to anybody," says Buckley, who has honored the scholarship all along. "But if anyone's going to return from it, it's going to be Jack. You've got to have fight; you've got to get over the trepidation of something happening to the elbow again. And this guy has no fear. I love his energy and competitiveness."
Donald has long seen it first hand from the pitcher who has helped the team win 44 games the past two seasons entering their opener at home against Edison in Clovis' Coca Cola Classic on Wednesday.
"He has the personality; he's very driven," Donald says. "He's worked extremely hard to be the pitcher he is today, and that's no different in his rehab.
"The story is still to be told, really, to see if it happens, to see if he gets back on the field this year.
"I wouldn't count Jack out."
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