How does one express the proper sentiment about a 9-year-old kid fighting for, and ultimately losing, his life?
In the midst of this awfulness — Kaiser Carlile suffered severe head injuries after straying into the on-deck circle Saturday while a Bee Jays player was taking a practice swing in the second inning of an NBC World Series game — how does baseball matter?
It doesn’t, really, except that it would matter to Kaiser, who died from his injuries Sunday at Via Christi-St. Francis.
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.
It was cruel that the game dragged on to 13 innings, a marathon made only slightly better when the Bee Jays beat the San Diego Waves.
And Liberal was back on the field Sunday night to play the Haysville Aviators. It’s probably good that the Bee Jays were playing Sunday. Too much time is too much time to think, and thinking about this terrible situation provides no clarity, no comfort.
It was a terrible accident that happened in a flash. Thank goodness home plate umpire Mike Goldfeder happened to also be a paramedic — he was able to care for Kaiser on the field while EMS workers were en route.
Kaiser’s parents arrived in Wichita on Saturday, Liberal general manager Mike Carlile said, and spent hours at their son’s bedside. They were at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium for Sunday night’s game, apparently after Kaiser had died.
So were, Bee Jays radio play-by-play broadcaster Brock Kappelmann said, the parents of the Liberal player who accidentally struck Kaiser with his bat.
It was comforting to hear a few Bee Jays fans talk about how they were also praying for the player, understanding that it could have been any of the Bee Jays swinging that bat in the on-deck circle.“I think we’ve all had lumps in our throats all day,” said Kappelmann, who has broadcast Liberal games since 1998.
He was, of course, on the air when the bat struck Kaiser and did what any broadcaster would do.
“I described what happened as best I could — but I was literally shaking,” Kappelmann said. “When the game started back, I think everybody was a bit hesitant. But when Easton (Johnson) hit a ground ball to short that scored a run, it kind of felt like a baseball game again.”
It wasn’t until it ended, Kappelmann said, that emotion again engulfed the team.
“This is a 9-year-old kid, small in stature, who just wanted to be one of the guys,” said Mike Carlile, whose father and uncle — Bob and Don — preceded him in the GM role all the way back to the formation of the team in 1955. Kaiser’s grandfather is Mike Carlile’s second cousin.
“Kaiser can’t wait to get to the ballpark every day,” Carlile said. “Watching him interact with the guys on the team is comical. They kid each other, gig each other.… Kaiser and our head coach (Adam Anderson) were very tight. It was special. This is just a crappy deal.”
Kappelmann said one of the highlights of a Bee Jays home game at Brent Gould Field this season — Kaiser’s first as bat boy — came when public address announcer Guy Rice introduced him. From the very first time, Kaiser received one of the best and loudest ovations.
“The crowd would erupt,” Kappelmann said. “They just love him. He’s been a sparkplug for our team. And one of the players described to me on the post-game Saturday, Kaiser is the life of the team. He’s a fun-loving kid and every time we saw him he brought a smile to our faces.”
National Baseball Congress general manager Kevin Jenks issued a statement, as did Liberal mayor Joe Denoyer.
Haysville Aviators coach Gabe Grinder had the task of preparing his team to play against Liberal on Sunday, understanding how miniscule baseball now seems but also trying to move forward in the World Series.
“We all feel for the family and the Liberal team for what they’re going through,” Grinder said. “Anytime a kid gets hurt like this, it puts everything into perspective. We had a chance to play at Liberal this summer and we got a chance to see their bat boy. That kid’s full of life and he loves doing what he does.”
Just the other night, Kappelmann said, Kaiser was lugging around an equipment bag twice his size while Liberal’s players playfully mocked him and he giggled.
“Such a big part of this team,” Kappelmann said.
Everybody wanted a happy ending here. Everybody wanted to see Kaiser start the fourth grade at Sunflower Intermediate School later this month. Everybody wanted to see the bespectacled kid back in a Bee Jays uniform next summer, retrieving bats and mixing it up with players he idolized.
But it didn’t happen. After Kaiser died, Liberal won its game 8-0.
The Bee Jays won for Kaiser.