Kansas team plays on in memory of fallen batboy Kaiser Carlile

Kaiser Carlile loved baseball.

Earl Watt/AP

On Sunday, as Kaiser Carlile fought for his life in a Wichita, Kan., hospital after being accidentally struck in the head with a bat during a game the day before, Mike Carlile found himself at a local sporting goods store, looking for something, anything, that might help him show support for his team’s 9-year-old batboy.

Mike Carlile, the general manager of the Liberal Bee Jays and a relative of Kaiser’s, eventually settled on a blue Kansas City Royals T-shirt with the team’s KC logo printed in big white letters on the front. He wore it to Liberal’s National Baseball Congress World Series game that night against the Haysville Aviators, and almost immediately, the Bee Jays’ players expressed to their GM that they wanted similar shirts of their own.

"They were at the batting cages, and our first baseman, Nick Brooks, said, ‘Where are ours? We can put our numbers on the back of those and we can wear those,’ " Carlile recalled in an interview with FOX Sports on Monday. "So I said, ‘Well, maybe we could.’ "

Later that night, after the Bee Jays’ 8-0 win over Haysville ended at about 11:15 p.m., the Liberal players learned that Kaiser had passed away from his injuries. The news was devastating for the collegiate summer-league club, which features players from across the country, each of whom had come to love Kaiser like a teammate, friend and brother since their season started in late May.

On Monday, players, coaches and fans were still in shock, mourning the death of Carlile — "a spark plug of a kid," according to Bee Jays radio announcer Brock Kappelmann, and a boy who Bee Jays manager Adam Anderson said "lived for the game of baseball."

The team’s recovery from the trauma of the last few days will be gradual, and moving on in the wake of the accident will most certainly be challenging, but when the team returns to the field again Tuesday evening against the Seattle Studs, it may help in some small way to have Kaiser’s initials, K.C., printed boldly across their chests.

"I honestly get to a point where there’s no words to describe it," Liberal third baseman and catcher Brady Cox said. "A 9-year-old boy like this, a batboy, and he’s touched everyone. He’s touched me in more ways than I could imagine.

"So to do something as small as wear his initials and honor him that way means everything. (Sunday) at the game, they had the initials up on the scoreboard, and the team we were playing had written his initials on their hats, and just seeing things like that, it means everything. So now that we’re going to be able to honor him this way and wear the shirts, it’s pretty important."

The incident that claimed Carlile’s life took place in the top of the third inning of Saturday’s game.

Outfielder Micah Green led off the inning with a double and Jaylen Hubbard moved Green to third with a bunt. As Carlile, wearing a helmet, went to retrieve Hubbard’s bat, he was hit by a practice swing from the Bee Jays’ on-deck batter. After the impact, Carlile rose to his feet, took a few steps and fell to the ground again, and was then scooped up by Liberal outfielder Gavin Wehby.

Kappelmann, the sports director at KSCB in Liberal — about 3½ hours southwest of Wichita, near the Oklahoma panhandle — said he did not see the bat strike Carlile, but he heard the crowd’s reaction and remained on air, describing the scene while medical personnel tended to the young boy.

"It’s heartbreaking, but I still have a responsibility to listeners who are obviously interested, worried, scared, in prayer and want to know what’s going on," said Kappelmann, who has been calling Bee Jays games since 1998. "I had a responsibility to them, but, to be honest, I was shaking through the entire thing because you’re just so scared for him, you’re so scared for the family."

Home plate umpire Mark Goldfeder, a firefighter-paramedic from the Tampa, Fla., area, was the first to treat Carlile, who was unconscious but breathing after Wehby picked him up. Goldfeder stepped aside once emergency responders, already on the scene at the park, arrived a short time later. From there, Carlile was taken to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis, where he was placed in the intensive care unit.

"When I got to the player that had picked him up, I saw that he was unresponsive and told him to put him on the ground," Goldfeder told USA Today. "I started assessing him and quickly realized it was a critical situation."

As medical personnel treated Carlile during a 45-minute delay, Bee Jays players convened several times on the field. The prospect of stopping the game was raised during one of the huddles, but the team chose to keep playing.

Kaiser Carlile was adored by members of the team.

"We, as a coaching staff and as an organization, told the players, ‘If you guys don’t want to continue in this game, nobody will think anything of it; nobody will think less of any one of you guys,’" the manager Anderson said. "And a couple of guys in the back stepped up and said, ‘I think it would be best if we continued this game because that’s what he would want us to do.’ "

Added Cox: "We got together as a team after it happened and said, ‘Man, this is a game that Kaiser loves and he wouldn’t want us to stop playing.’ He’d want us to play hard and have fun. No matter what the result is, it’s a good time out there — that was his biggest thing. Kaiser was out there every day, and all he was doing was picking up bats, but he still loved it a lot more than we even loved being out on the field playing. That’s what really motivated us."

Liberal went on to win Saturday’s game 12-5 in 13 innings. Afterward, attentions turned back to Carlile. On Sunday, Kappelmann paid a visit to Carlile’s family at the hospital to check on Kaiser’s status and offer his support, but was met with the news that Carlile’s condition was not good. He returned to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium for the Bee Jays’ game that night with a heavy heart.

"It was rough because you just pray and pray and pray and then go in hopeful, and you see pretty quickly that it’s not going to turn out like you hope it will," Kappelmann said. "So then you leave there and go to a ballpark, and just by the nature of the name ballpark, it’s a place of fun and a place of great memories throughout the years for the Liberal Bee Jays. So it was a sombering feeling walking back into that ballpark, one like I’ve never felt before in all these years broadcasting that tournament."

With Carlile’s family watching in the stands, Liberal beat the Haysville Aviators, 8-0, and after the game, Carlile’s father Chad addressed the team, informing them that Kaiser had passed.

Kaiser Carlile doing what he loved.

"The generality of it was that no one is to feel responsible for anything that happened," the GM Carlile said. "They made Kaiser’s life alive this summer, and he just appreciated it and thanked every one of those kids for what they did, and the coaching staff also. It was a very moving experience."

That was also Kaiser’s grandparents’ message on Saturday, in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

"That’s a huge part of why we are where we are right now," Mike Carlile added of the family’s support. "They have done nothing but reach out. At the time of the accident, his family came onto the field and the young player that this happened to, they went straight to him and told him, ‘It’s not your fault. It’s an accident,’ and to say that, that speaks volumes about the character of the family."

On Monday, an emotional Chad Carlile spoke to reporters in Wichita and expressed grief at his son’s passing, but also appreciation for the way the Bee Jays made Kaiser a part of their team this summer.

"I didn’t want to ruin their train of thought by saying that he was no longer with us until after the game," he said of his postgame address. "I was able to see their eyes, and actually see the love they had for my son. It was no different than a father’s love."

He’s a 9-year-old kid and hadn’t been jaded by the game of baseball like some of us have. Things don’t go your way all the time, and his innocence was really uplifting.

Manager Adam Anderson

And that’s been the prevailing message coming out of the Liberal clubhouse ever since. Though Kaiser had only been with the Bee Jays for two months, and virtually none of the players or coaches knew him going in, his effect on the team has been profound.

"He’s a 9-year-old kid and hadn’t been jaded by the game of baseball like some of us have," Anderson said. "Things don’t go your way all the time, and his innocence was really uplifting. He would always lend a helping hand wherever he needed to be. If he had to go lug the helmet bag out of the closet to get the helmets for the game, he would do it. His demeanor and his personality were just something that you wish you could just bottle up and put in every single person."

According to Anderson, Kaiser came to be the batboy after filling in for the team’s regular batboy during a game last season. After that game, Anderson said Kaiser told his dad he wanted to be the team’s permanent batboy the following year, a dream that came true after Mike Carlile, whose second cousin is Kaiser’s grandfather, heard Kaiser wanted to be part of the team.

Throughout the season, Kaiser would stand at Anderson’s side in the dugout, soaking up the experience, picking up the ins and outs of the game from the manager, especially when the team was out on defense.

"There are certain things that I say — for example, in a 1-1 count, I may say, ‘Hey, go win the count,’ and as the summer went on, Kaiser would be beating me to say it," Anderson said. "He learned a lot about the game of baseball and he was our biggest fan. He was our biggest supporter and all the guys really rallied around him when things were going bad for them. You could talk to him for two seconds and all of a sudden your outlook on the game may change."

Bee Jays players say they couldn’t help but be influenced by Carlile’s boundless positivity.

"I’d get in the dugout after a couple bad at-bats, going 0 for 2, 0 for 3, and I’d have him give me a high-five or some knuckles," said Cox, a rising junior at Texas-Arlington. "He’d say, ‘It’s OK, you’re all right,’ something as simple as that, and it makes you realize that it’s just a game. No matter how it’s going, your attitude can always be better."

He was immediately one of the guys. They fell in love with that kid, they bonded …

Mike Carlile

"He was immediately one of the guys," Mike Carlile added. "They fell in love with that kid, they bonded and gigged each other. It took him a little bit before he would gig them back, but it didn’t take long to figure out that it was a relationship that was made forever."

With that bond in mind, it’s understandable if the team was emotional Tuesday night. It can’t have been easy playing without Kaiser chasing down bats and scooping up foul balls, but doing so was a necessary next step.

The Bee Jays are one of four teams remaining in the winner’s bracket of the annual tournament, which they last won in 2010. The team will play again Wednesday night against either the Santa Barbara Foresters or the Valley Center Diamond Dawgs, with the results and the loser’s bracket games dictating the schedule for the rest of the week.

Should the Bee Jays reach the championship, that game would be played Saturday, but the focus right now for Liberal isn’t so much on the results going forward as it is on approaching the games the way Kaiser would tell them to.

"The wins and losses — you know the kids want to win, but it doesn’t mean near as much as it used to," Mike Carlile said. "Playing the game of baseball is what they do, and they’ll continue to do that, but they’re going to do it in a different way. You can tell that these kids, they’re college kids, and this has set upon them the reality of what life is all about. It’s not just about what happens between those white lines. They’ll absolutely play the game, and they’ll play very hard, but it’ll be with a different purpose in mind."

"That would be the ultimate end goal, if we could do that after everything that’s happened," Cox added of a potential championship. "But what we’ve been saying this whole week is that, obviously, we’re going to go out there and try to win it for him and his family, but as long as we’re out there playing hard and having fun — as tough as a loss would be, it would make it that much easier knowing we were playing how Kaiser would have liked to watch us play."

So as Anderson addresses his team, he’ll do so with a K.C. displayed proudly across his chest and with Kaiser’s legacy — and most importantly, his message — in mind.

"We were a close-knit group before this, but this has obviously brought us a lot closer together, and it’s given us a bond that we’re going to share for the rest of our lives," Anderson said. "So the big message to the team is that we’re in this together. It’s not one person having to go through this by themselves. We’re in this as a team and we’re going to continue to be in this as a team and we’re going to handle this situation and play together as a team and play for one of our teammates.

"Kaiser, he’s a Bee Jay just as much as anyone else ever has been or ever will be in the future," Anderson added. "And I think whenever anybody on this team picks up a baseball or gets ready to set foot on a baseball field, he’s going to be on their mind. He would want us to go out there and have fun and play hard, and that’s all we’re going to try to do."

You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or email him at samgardnerfox@gmail.com. To help support the Carlile family with a donation at the BigHits4Kaiser GoFundMe page click here.