It took a mere two months of summer baseball with the Liberal Bee Jays for 9-year-old Kaiser Carlile to wiggle his way deep into the hearts of the players and coaching staff.
Maybe it was Kaiser’s constant smile despite the heat or a difficult game. Maybe it was his endless energy as he hopped over and under players on the team bus during road trips.
“Kaiser will always hold a special place in my heart,” Bee Jays catcher Brady Cox said during Monday’s news conference dedicated to the memory of Kaiser. “I’ll never step on the field and not think of him.”
Kaiser, the Bee Jays’ bat boy, died Sunday. He was struck in the head with a follow-through swing near the on-deck circle on Saturday afternoon during the Bee Jays’ game at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in the National Baseball Congress World Series.
Kaiser, who was from Liberal, was wearing a helmet.
“He was as much a part of the team as everyone else out here,” Bee Jays manager Adam Anderson said. “The smile he could put on everybody’s face was something you don’t see very often.”
No plans will be made for Kaiser’s funeral until after the Bee Jays are finished in the World Series, according to Roy Allen, a team spokesman.
Kaiser was the short kid on the field that the Bee Jays loved and laughed with.
“He was our teammate,” Bee Jays pitcher Kadon Simmons said. “He was our spark plug. Without him, no one would run; we’d have no energy. … It might be the 50th game of the season over the summer, over two months. He’d still be there, ready to go, jumping around, being crazy.”
Kaiser was not just another cheerful bat boy. His family has long ties to the team, and Kaiser was a sports nut; his teachers say he lived and dreamed balls and strikes.
And Kaiser desperately wanted to be the Bee Jays’ bat boy.
“In the process, he gained 30 brothers,” Allen said.
“He was a true Bee Jay, and he loved this organization,” Simmons said. “Now Kaiser’s one of us at every one of our (colleges).”
Kaiser took his job seriously, which is why he scolded Bee Jays general manager Mike Carlile once during the summer when the game time was moved up – and Kaiser didn’t know.
“The game started, I’m behind the dugout watching the game, and I hear, ‘Hey, Mike!’ I turn around. There’s Kaiser, running with his helmet, his stuff. He’s like, ‘You made me late!’ ” said Mike Carlile, who is the second cousin of Kaiser’s grandfather.
During the season, the Bee Jays checked on Kaiser when he wasn’t feeling well and gave him high-fives before and after at-bats. They treated him like a kid brother.
Sometimes a curse word was said around Kaiser. A quick apology followed, but Kaiser waved it off.
“He’d say, ‘It’s all right. I know what it means. I’m 9 years old,’ ” Bee Jays left fielder Gavin Wehby said with a laugh.
What stuck with the Bee Jays, though, was the constant joy Kaiser found at the baseball field.
Their goal is to honor him always.
They are wearing blue Kansas City Royals wristbands emblazoned with “KC,” Kaiser’s initials. They’re having T-shirts made with his initials. Their Bee Jays caps have “KC” written on the front lower left-hand corner.
The NBC will have Kaiser’s initials on the scoreboard marquee in left field throughout the rest of the tournament and plans to honor him before the tourney’s conclusion.
At McDermott Elementary School in Liberal, everybody reported to work heartbroken on Monday, and nobody talked baseball much.
Kaiser completed the third grade and was transferring to Sunflower Intermediate School to start fourth grade. McDermott principal Kathy Fitzgerald remembers him as a cheerful face, a kid short for his age, a talented student who liked to draw – and a doting brother.
He always looked out for his kid sister, she said. Keirsie Carlile is scheduled to start third grade there on Aug. 14.
“Today’s been really tough, and not just that we have the void in our lives of losing Kaiser,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re all worried now about his little sister.”
Kaiser and Keirsie looked out for each other, said Fitzgerald and school counselor Cathi Crosier. They often saw one or the other sibling at the end of every school day, one waiting on the other.
“Then they’d walk home to their grandparents’ house from school together,” Crosier said. “Kaiser looked out for her every day. If she was upset about something, he’d comfort her. He was very protective of his little sister.”
Liberal is a town of about 22,000 in southwestern Kansas. It’s a sports town that loves its summertime baseball and a Class 5A high school with years of successful athletics programs.
People there are fond of football, track, wrestling and soccer, said Jason McAfee, a human resources director with the Liberal school district. The Carlile family has long ties to athletics there. Kaiser’s father, Chad, was a state high school wrestling champion, Fitzgerald said. Family members have been long involved in the Bee Jays baseball team.
Kaiser did well in school and loved all sports, especially baseball and soccer, Fitzgerald said. But he also made a point of being there for others, she said. Besides watching over his little sister’s welfare, he helped classmates and befriended many, she said.
“I think one of his teachers put it best with a post on Facebook today,” Fitzgerald said. “She said we come into contact with all our students. And that they all touch our lives. But a few of our students leave a little deeper imprint on our hearts.
“Kaiser was that kind of child.”
The Liberal Bee Jays want to bring home their seventh NBC World Series title for Kaiser.
It’s why they continued to play Saturday afternoon following the accident. It’s why they’ll play Tuesday night.
“As we’ve gone through this the past couple days, when we’re out on the field on Saturday and we’re out on the field last night, we’re there because we know that’s what Kaiser would want us to do,” said Anderson, the Bee Jays’ manager.
“He’d always say before a game: ‘Have fun and play hard.’ ”