LIBERAL – People walked past Kaiser Carlile’s open casket as they entered the Seward County Community College gymnasium Tuesday for his funeral.
The 9-year-old was wearing his Liberal Bee Jays uniform, the same one he was wearing Aug. 1 when a player’s swing in the on-deck circle struck Kaiser in the head during a National Baseball Congress World Series game at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Kaiser died the next day.
Some people could not look. Others paused and took time with him. Everyone was struck by the raw emotion of a life ended too soon.
Tuesday was a damp day, befitting everyone’s melancholy and sadness. A group of Liberal players, including the one involved in the accident, put off returning to college for a few days so they could attend their little buddy’s funeral.
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The player, who plays college baseball in another state, walked into the ceremony, attended by several hundred people, with his parents and Kaiser’s family. Such is the bond between them in the wake of such a terrible tragedy.
There has been no blame, only empathy. No anger, only embrace. There is profound sadness about Kaiser’s death, but also overwhelming grace and hope.
What the Bee Jays were able to do – continue the normalcy of playing baseball during such an emotional tidal wave – showed strength and courage. Still, undoubtedly those players were relieved when it was over. They could finally let out a collective deep breath and soak in the enormity of their loss.
Before the funeral began, dozens of pictures of Kaiser were shown on big screens. They portrayed his deep connection to his family and to his Bee Jays. They were heartbreaking, impossible to watch without thinking about what this adorable small child would have contributed had he lived longer.
Kaiser loved to fish and there were several pictures of him holding a day’s catch – small as it might be. In most of the pictures, he was surrounded by his father, mother and 8-year-old sister, Keirsie, whose birthday was Monday.
They weren’t just close in age, they were inseparable in life. Sure, they had the normal brother-sister squabbles, but Keirsie and Kaiser had more in common than their unusual first names.
For now, her memories of her older brother are fresh. Here’s hoping her parents, family and friends keep them that way for as long as possible. She spoke briefly during her brother’s funeral, telling a funny story. Her parents also spoke and Chad, the father, directed comments to the player whose bat struck Kaiser, along with his family.
“Thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “You guys have also shown a lot of support for us. Our daughter, I couldn’t express how much she loves you. I might have lost a son in this tragedy, but I feel like I’ve gained a family.”
Gayle, Kaiser’s mother, was just as gracious. She said she has gained comfort from scriptures from the Bible and also from her friends, family and people she has never met.
“I know a lot of people are very worried about us right now,” she said. “I want to thank everybody because the prayers are working. God has his hand on us right now and that’s the only way we’re getting through this.
“I just want to let everybody know that I am thankful for the prayers, the support, and that it has helped in so many ways. I am blessed to be (Kaiser’s) mommy, and I will hold him in my heart.”
Kaiser was in his first year as a Bee Jays bat boy, and he took his job seriously. The public-address announcer at Brent Gould Field, Guy Rice, introduced Kaiser during every Liberal home game and the crowd response was always enthusiastic. But it took a visit from Rice before a game to convince Kaiser to acknowledge the crowd with a wave. Once he did so, enthusiasm turned up a notch.
Kaiser was in his element with the Bee Jays. Several of the pictures in the slideshow Tuesday were from this year’s NBC World Series.
One was particularly poignant – it showed Kaiser standing with the team during a postgame huddle. He was looking up to his giant teammates and one can only imagine the pride he must have been feeling.
Kaiser’s death has hit this community hard. And when I say “this community,” I’m not referring just to Liberal.
Kaiser touched a chord with everyone through his devotion to the Bee Jays and especially their devotion to him. The impact on the team and its players is enormous and it’s the connection between Kaiser and the Bee Jays that people in Liberal, in the state and around the country have found comfort.
They took him in as one of their own. He was a part of their successes and their failures. He got to experience something bigger than him, bigger than those college-age players.
“Kaiser’s first day, he showed up at the field and wanted to impress,” Liberal coach Adam Anderson eulogized. “When I sat down and talked about the rules, I told him that if he wanted to be a part of this team, he’d have to start dressing like a baseball player.”
At the time, Kaiser was in soccer shorts and his shirt was untucked. The next day, though, he was in full uniform, beaming about the experience on which he was embarking.
“We all noticed how serious Kaiser was about winning that bat-boy job,” Anderson said. “He would make these players’ day, and my day, just by showing up with that smile on his face.”
He wasn’t just picking up bats, he was picking up the Bee Jays’ emotions. Striking out must not have seemed like such a big deal once a player looked at Kaiser’s precocious face. And hitting a home run must have seemed even more special because of the 9-year-old’s reaction.
Kaiser, of course, was more than a bat boy. He was a son, a grandson, a relative, a classmate and a friend. He didn’t have long to touch lives, but those he touched are trapped by his grasp.
“Kaiser lived well, and he lived too short,” Pastor Rex Petty said near the end of the hour-long funeral.
Kaiser is an inspiration. He’s a blessing. He will forever be remembered.
He didn’t just pick up bats, he picked up spirits. Bless him.