Kaiser Carlile was the short kid on the field whom everyone on the Liberal, Kan., Bee Jays semi-pro baseball team loved and laughed with.
He 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.
Kaiser, 9 years old, died Sunday night of head injuries suffered at a Bee Jays game during a national tournament Saturday in Wichita. A batter for the Bee Jays took a follow-through swing of his bat near the on-deck circle during Saturday’s game against the San Diego Waves. The bat struck Kaiser, who was wearing a helmet, in the head.
The boy was hospitalized in intensive care and died Sunday.
Chad Carlile didn’t plan on speaking at Monday’s news conference dedicated to remembering his son. But after listening to Liberal Bee Jays players and manager Adam Anderson talk about the joy Kaiser brought to the team as its bat boy, Carlile wanted to share.
“He was competitive, but in the same breath, he cared about everyone,” Carlile said. “That’s what it is, it’s the love that he had … for the game.”
Following Kaiser’s death, the National Baseball Congress tournament announced it will not have bat boys or ball boys during the remainder of its World Series games at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita.
“It’s out of respect for the Bee Jays,” said Kevin Jenks, the National Baseball Congress general manager. “… It’s too emotionally charged. We’re going to remove it from the World Series.”
Bat boys retrieve bats from the home-plate area and return them to the dugout. Ball boys chase foul balls and also take more baseballs to the home-plate umpire. Parents sometimes contact the National Baseball Congress to have their children participate as a bat boy or ball boy, and Jenks said it’s a volunteer position that is filled early in the process for all 60 games.
As for future World Series, Jenks is unsure.
“We need to look at it and have some conversations and see what is best,” he said. “Our age limit is 10 years old. … We’ll talk about it; we may need to raise the age limit.” At 9, Kaiser was able to be on the field because he was Liberal’s bat boy all summer.
The annual National Baseball Congress tournament brings into Wichita collegiate players from all over the country, including from towns such as Liberal in southwest Kansas. Former collegiate players also are on the teams.
A GoFundMe page was established — BigHits4Kaiser — to help Kaiser’s family. By late Monday, $78,288 had been raised.
The city of Wichita has not decided whether it will conduct an investigation into the death. Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is owned by the city.
Ken Evans, the city’s strategic communications director, said it is too early to decide on the need for an inquiry.
“I think we’re all kind of in shock at the moment with the rest of the community and focused on expressing our heartfelt sympathies for all the family and the friends and the folks involved with the tournament,” Evans said.
Back at Kaiser’s school, McDermott Elementary School in Liberal, everybody reported to work heartbroken on Monday, and nobody talked baseball much.
Kaiser was a third-grader at McDermott and was transferring to Sunflower Intermediate School. Principal Kathy Fitzgerald remembers Kaiser 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 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 siblings 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 far southwestern Kansas. It’s a sports town with a high school with years of successful athletics programs in its history.
People there are fond of football, track, wrestling, 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 was a state high school wrestling champion, Fitzgerald said. Family members have been long involved in the Bee Jays baseball team.
Kaiser was beloved by the Liberal players. It was a bond that formed quickly, since the team didn’t come together until early June. His family raved about the character of the Liberal players.
“I can’t stress enough how much the guys on this team mean to us. This Bee Jay team is above and beyond anything I could imagine,” Chad Carlile said. “It’s not just a baseball team, it’s a family with a bunch of different last names.
“They treated my son like he was their own. Every single player. So how do I move on? I look at every single one of those guys in their eyes and see the love they have for my son. It comes from their hearts, and I know that.”
Kaiser ate up the attention he received at Liberal’s home games this season. Kaiser even took a couple of road trips with the Bee Jays, which meant getting to ride on the team bus.
“We always followed behind in our car,” said Allan Carlile, Kaiser’s grandfather. “And when we’d ask him how it went on the bus, he would say, ‘What goes on on that bus stays on the bus.’ He’d never tell us.”
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.”
Bob Lutz of the Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.