WICHITA - There was a familiar theme that each of the speakers at Mitch Caster’s memorial service wanted the hundreds in attendance to grasp Friday afternoon at Eck Stadium.
Caster loved baseball, but not nearly as much as he loved making people laugh and smile. It was something Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson clung to as teammates shared memories about Caster, who was killed Monday in a car accident in West Des Moines, Iowa.
“It helped. I’m so thankful for the players that we had that were able to get up and talk about Mitch the way they did,” Stephenson said afterward. “I don’t think I could have done this one.”
WSU outfielder Kevin Hall was the first of Caster’s teammates to speak. Though he was one of many to leave the podium at home plate choked up, his story of Caster’s Arnold Schwarzenegger impression after a hard day’s training forced chuckles and smiles out of relatives, friends and teammates.
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“We get into the locker room and we’re exhausted, sweating and I’m bruised,” Hall said. “But I’m laughing and Mitch is laughing. That’s the kind of guy Mitch was. He was willing to go out there and help me and help himself, but he was not so consumed by it as to not have fun.”
A slideshow, including everything from baby photos to high school graduation and WSU baseball photos, were showcased on the videoboard before the memorial service. Caster’s No. 20 was also painted on the artificial surface. It was surrounded by several arrangements of sunflowers just behind home plate.
Teammate Tim Kelley invited the Caster family from their seats directly behind the backstop to the field to receive Caster’s favorite yellow and white Shocker jerseys.
“If he was here today and he could give anyone on this field some advice, I think he would say, ‘Work hard, but you’d better be smiling,’æ” Hall said.
Caster, 21, was driving south on I-35 at about 12:15 a.m. Monday when his vehicle crossed the median and hit a northbound semi. Caster was returning to Wichita from his summer team in Minnesota.
Caster, a senior from Goddard, played outfield and pitched for the Shockers.
The WSU Foundation is collecting gifts for a memorial fund. Donations can be made to the Mitch Caster Memorial at the WSU Foundation, 1845 Fairmount, Wichita, 67260-0002. A portion of the gifts will go to the fund for Carl Hall, a former WSU player paralyzed in a June 26 car accident.