In June, when my husband and I booked our trip to Wichita for the 81st National Baseball Congress World Series, we were excited, but we had no idea how the events of the week would change our lives. And it wasn’t just our lives that have been changed. Every life here has been touched, and no one saw it coming.
When we told people we were spending our week-long vacation in Wichita for a baseball tournament, most of them didn’t understand why. After all, we watch baseball all the time. We do not need to fly half-way across the country to watch baseball. Others scoffed at the idea of spending vacation in Kansas. And I’ll get to why Kansas in another post.
But as far as baseball goes, the National Baseball Congress (NBC) is so much bigger than baseball. I have always understood that, but now everyone who knows what has happened here during the past week understands it.
On Saturday, August 1, the Liberal Bee Jays’ bat boy, 9-year-old Kaiser Carlile, was accidentally struck by a bat. He passed away the next day. The story spread across the nation. For those of us at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium over the following week, the tournament was bigger than baseball.
Organizations that had planned fundraisers at the games collected donations to cover medical expenses for the Carlile family rather than funding their own pursuits.
The Bee Jays opponents hugged and stood beside them during the National Anthem rather than on opposing sides, and opponents gave them a standing ovation after the game.
Two teams prayed together before their game.
The mayor of Wichita ordered all flags to half-staff and led the stadium in a moment of silence.
A banner was hung in right center field with “KC” printed in the middle of a heart-shaped baseball. The same logo appeared on the center field screen, and “KC” was written on the scoreboard where the day’s sponsor would usually appear.
Every coach and player involved in the tournament wrote “KC” on his hat. The tournament mascot wrote “KC” on his wristbands. NBC employees wore custom shirts with “KC” written on the front, and the Bee Jays had last-minute custom jerseys made for the team, parents, board members, and host families.
Kaiser’s family continued attending Bee Jays games, even on the day they lost their son. Kaiser’s sister threw out the first pitch on Tuesday, August 4, and his father hugged and high-fived each coach and player before the game.
Everyone cried. Everyone cheered.
And last night when the Liberal Bee Jays took third place in the NBC World Series, the entire team was awarded the annual Most Inspirational Player award.
This isn’t merely a baseball tournament. It is a family reunion. This tragedy revealed very publically just how much of a family the people of the NBC are. Kaiser inspired everyone to come together for a cause so much bigger than baseball, but he also inspired us to continue pursuing our love for baseball.
Of course, our gut reaction is to protect and pull away from the danger. The NBC banned bat-kids from the tournament, and parents in the stands have been extra watchful over their children. But we are also choosing to live and honor Kaiser’s memory by living our lives to the full. We are capitalizing on an opportunity to be together and encourage each other to press on.
You can help the Carlile family with medical and funeral expenses by donating here.