(CNN) — They’re young competitors with, doubtless, a common goal — to make it to the National Baseball Congress World Series championship — but this weekend, everyone, even their opponents, were rooting for the Liberal Bee Jays.
Some might question why the Bee Jays were even taking the field when their bespectacled, baseball-loving batboy, Kaiser Carlile, died Sunday after being struck in the head with a bat a day earlier, but it was a decision that wasn’t made flippantly. Ultimately, the team decided, the 9-year-old would have wanted the games to continue.
“When the Bee Jays decided to continue Saturday’s game after a team meeting in the outfield, they did so because they concluded it’s what Kaiser would have wanted,” Bob Lutz, a columnist for The Wichita Eagle, wrote in Sunday’s newspaper.
Haysville, Kansas, Aviators coach Gabe Grinder, whose team would go on to be shut out by the Bee Jays on Sunday, told Lutz that Kaiser was enamored with being a batboy.
“We had a chance to play at Liberal this summer and we got a chance to see their batboy. That kid’s full of life and he loves doing what he does,” Grinder said.
In a Monday news conference, a handful of Bee Jays, some of them weeping, remembered young Kaiser as an eternally grinning “little brother” who tirelessly shagged balls during batting practice and often provided humor on long bus rides. He was also quick with a word of encouragement, they said.
“When we showed up every day at the park, the smile on his face turned a smile on everyone else’s face,” said coach Adam Anderson, explaining that even if the Bee Jays were getting whipped, Kaiser kept a positive demeanor. “How can you not smile? … It made the game of baseball that much more enjoyable having him with us every day.”
On occasion one of the players would utter an obscenity in Kaiser’s presence and quickly apologize upon realizing it. The batboy would reply, “It’s all right. I know what it means. I’m 9 years old,” outfielder Gavin Wehby recalled.
“He was a little ball of energy every single day. He always did his job 110%,” Wehby said, “and he was the best batboy in baseball.”
An errant swing of the bat
Kaiser showed up on the Bee Jays’ opening day a little more than two months ago wearing a T-shirt, shorts and “Minions” socks. “He did a great job Day One,” and after earning the batboy position, along with “30 big brothers,” Kaiser traded in his casual attire for a Bee Jays uniform that he wore to every game, team spokesman Roy Allen told reporters.
Despite the high stakes in Saturday’s game against the San Diego Waves, it was business as usual at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium as Kaiser trotted out to the on-deck circle to collect a bat that had just been used, Nathan McCaffrey, the Liberal, Kansas, team’s president, said in a statement.
A Bee Jays batter was in the on-deck circle taking warmup swings and accidentally hit the youngster in the head, the statement said. Kaiser was wearing a helmet, but the blow knocked him to the ground, witnesses told local media.
“Just to see him fall, that’s what crushes you,” McCaffrey said.
Fan Mickie Schmith likened the sound to that of a bat cracking against a baseball, while another spectator, Malachi Lingg, told CNN affiliate KAKE that she heard screaming after Kaiser was struck.
The batter “didn’t see him at all and took a swing right as the batboy went by and hit him right in the back of the head,” she told the station. “I felt really bad for the mother — she was right there in the front row and saw it all.”
Added Jim Parks in an interview with KSN: “He was swinging, and it hit him in the helmet, knocked him down. He got back up, but he went right back down again.”
Schmith said he felt sorry for the young man who swung the bat. (The NBC World Series is a tournament for college-age amateurs.)
“I felt sad for the family and the team and the young man who actually hit him because you could tell he was very distraught, so hopefully he’s not hurt by it in any great way,” Schmith told KAKE.
A rush to save Kaiser
Umpire Mark Goldfeder, a paramedic, immediately began administering first aid, while emergency responders already on the scene helping a woman who had suffered a dizzy spell arrived quickly and transported Kaiser to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita, where he was placed in the intensive care unit.
“Over the speakers came a child had been hit at the ballpark. The one lady working on me finished working on me, while the other one grabbed her defibrillator and her oxygen and ran out of the ambulance,” the woman who had suffered a dizzy spell, Janice Van Dyke, told CNN affiliate KSN.
The Bee Jays went on to beat the Waves in a 13-inning marathon. On Sunday, with Kaiser still in critical condition, the team hit the diamond again — with Kaiser’s family in the stands.
They arrived to find that organizers had put the letters “KC” on the scoreboard. Fans from every team wore blue bracelets in Kaiser’s honor, while several spectators arrived in Kansas City Royals gear, co-opting the team’s iconic “KC” to honor the youngster.
Even the Bee Jays’ opponents, the Aviators, had the letters written on their ball caps, and the team’s batboy wore a Bee Jays shirt in honor of his colleague.
“They were talking about what their team was going to do, put KC on everything and maybe even wear bracelets, so that’s what we planned on doing,” Aviators general manager Grant Jones told KSN.
Morgan and Jamie Blackim, owners of another opposing squad, the Hutchinson, Kansas, Monarchs, stayed after their team’s game to collect donations for the Carlile family.
“We decided we would just stay and do basically a pass-the-hat deal, walk through the stands and pick up donations — 20s, 50s, 10s, not asking for change — just, ‘Hey, here’s our prayers,’ ” Morgan Blackim told KSN.
Yet despite the abundance of goodwill and outpouring of prayers for Kaiser, the Bee Jays walked off the field after their 8-0 Sunday win over the Aviators to learn that “their little spark plug” had died, the team said on its website.
“After the (Bee Jays) won in convincing fashion, the team skipped normal post game protocol and instead went to a private spot near the batting cages where they learned nine year old bat boy Kaiser Carlile passed away,” the team said.
For many of the team’s players and fans, the boy’s death was personal.
“Kaiser, you were a little brother I never had,” Kadon Simmons said. “You took the field with us every game this summer. You were, and always will be a Bee Jay. No person or team could ask for a better bat boy. It is terrible to see you leave in such a way, but knowing your last moments were on the baseball field makes it easier through this whole process, because you were doing what you loved.”
“Pleasure being around this young man for a short time,” Cale O’Donnell tweeted. “Heaven gained an angel today. Rest in Peace Kaiser.”
Kaiser was supposed to start the fourth grade at Sunflower Intermediate School this month, wrote Lutz, the columnist.
The team has set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations to assist with the Kaiser family’s medical expenses and other needs.
In the wake of the boy’s death, the National Baseball Congress said that it would not use batboys or batgirls for the remainder of the season.
The Bee Jays’ next game is Tuesday evening, and the championship game is slated for Saturday. What might it mean for the team if the Bee Jays were able to win it all for Kaiser?
“I couldn’t put it into words,” Coach Anderson said during Monday’s news conference.