Today Was A Good Day

At 1:36 p.m. last Friday, a board member of the Corona American Little League texted me. He was planning festivities for the league’s Opening Ceremonies, to be held the next morning.

“Would you do us all the honor and perform a ‘first pitch’ in memory of Jax?” he asked. He went on to write that our Rookie (t-ball) Brewers were being highlighted, and they’d also release 12 white balloons in Jax’s honor.

How do you say no to that?

If you don’t recall, prior to the 2014 season, we approached the league about permanently sponsoring the Brewers t-ball team. It was a way for us to give back and honor our boy. But the league did much more than that. This year, I was managing the Brewers team.

The next day we were throwing a fifth birthday party for Gray and Ellie, so my wife was going to skip Opening Ceremonies. Instead, she decided to come, along with her mom who was out helping with the party. My mom and dad and sister and her two kids joined as well.

As all of the teams gathered in the outfield before the ceremony, a mom of the youngest player on my team pointed out that they wrote a big number three in white chalk behind home plate, Jax’s jersey number. From afar, I could see three pearly white baseballs resting on a folding table covered in a royal blue table cloth. As we gathered to lead the parade of teams on to the field, my family got in to place overlooking the field to grab some photos and video.

3 in Chalk

I zoned out for about 10 minutes as the other teams were introduced and joined us at the lip of the outfield grass. I chatted with our team mom and coaches and tried to keep our players seated; anything distract myself from the emotions of the day.

After some words from one of the league’s board members, he introduced me. I walked, head down, towards the table with the balls. I grabbed one of those beauties, and kept flipping it in my hands while the board member spoke about Jax, our relationship with the t-ball Brewers and commitment to sponsor the team. I just wanted to get it done with. I couldn’t look at the crowd – it felt too overwhelming. I felt the eyes on me, and it made my skin crawl. I kept waiting for the board member to give the okay to toss that clutched pearl.

I was in gray shorts, a black tee shirt and beat up, gnarly Converse. Just what you think a little league coach should look like, right? The board member finally gave the cue. I stood a couple of feet in front of the rubber on the pitcher’s mound, raised my front arm to start a quick side-step motion and painted the black on the outside corner.

“Strike,” the board’s president said to me as I walked back to my team on the outfield grass. I pumped my fist as if to say “damn right.” My players released the 12 white balloons in to the sky. By the time I reached them on the grass, they were still watching them escape in to the heavens.

I saw my wife along the other side of the fence down the left field line. As I got closer to her, I noticed her eyes red and swollen with tears. I told her I had to walk away so I didn’t lose it. I felt it coming, the emotions I’d tried to bury all morning.

When I got back to my players, our team mom was fixing Ellie’s pony tail. The mom told me Ellie had started crying. I asked why, and she said she was sad. I asked Ellie what was going on, and she told me she just missed Jax. This, from the girl that never shows emotions or wants to talk about her feelings when it comes to Jax. I just always figured she had ice in her veins. Gray talks and shares and asks questions constantly about his big brother. Ellie usually sits in silence, asking my wife or I if we’re going to cry. She just doesn’t want us to cry. So to hear that she cried, and was moved by the day to lead to some sort of feeling, was special to me.

An active military servicemen and a player in the league battling an illness (this is all I can give you, as I could barely hear because all of the speakers faced the crowd, away from us) threw out the other two first pitches.

And with that, opening ceremonies ended. The league scheduled us to play immediately following the ceremonies, as they continued to highlight our Brewers team. The hope was to get a lingering crowd to stick around and watch us play the Giants. It worked.

It was a relief to finally get to the game. We were the home team, so we were in the field to start. Ellie fielded all four balls they hit in the first inning. She was a vacuum. About an hour later our game ended. The team played really well and I couldn’t have been more proud. Our shortstop made a sweet forehand play up the middle, tagged second base and threw to first. It’s as close to a double play as you can get in t-ball. Gray, inspired by pretending to be a Jedi with a light saber striking down a Sith lord, ripped line drives in all three of his at-bats. It was the hardest I’ve ever seen him hit balls. None of our players ran to third base after hitting from the tee, and while I may be biased, our team played considerably better than the Giants. BUT I MAY BE BIASED.

It was the kind of start to a day that Ice Cube would’ve rapped about (except I didn’t get a triple double, despite messing around). Our family is touched by the league’s willingness to continue to honor our special boy. To help us share his memory to those that knew him and perhaps played with him four years ago, and many that didn’t know of Jax or our story.

Damn right it was a good day.

Little League Remembers Jax

My wife and I have two purposes in our “new life” (I fucking hate that term, by the way). The first is to make sure Gray and Ellie grow up loved, protected and know how to execute the wheel play flawlessly. The second is to make sure as many people as possible know Jax.

It’s why we walk every October with his cartoon super hero across our chests to raise money for Children’s Hospital of Orange County. It’s why we give to the scholarship fund his preschool started in his name. It’s why we held a remembrance last June. And it’s why my wife and I jump at every opportunity to talk about Jax to Gray and Ellie. Everyone needs to know him.

On May 6 of last year I emailed the president of the Corona American Little League with an idea to help further our efforts. And to give back to something that meant so much to him and our family. Baseball.

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“Jaxson played as a 4-year-old on the tee ball Brewers last year,” I wrote. “Shortly after the season ended, he died from a drowning accident.” Then I shilled this blog. I’d rather just link to the About section than type much more than that. It’s easier for my psyche.

Anyway, I’m writing because my wife and I want to give back to the league. He loved baseball, loved his team and baseball is a passion of mine. I’ve been meaning to write this email since December, but kept putting it off because I knew I’d cry (which I’m doing now). 

I finished with my idea that our family sponsor the Brewers tee ball team permanently. Chris, the president, replied compassionately that same day and said he’d review it with the league’s Board of Directors. You see, each season the league determines which teams they’ll purchase jerseys for in the league. The Angels and Dodgers are always popular. The Brewers? Not so much. Two weeks later he wrote that the Board approved of my suggestion.

In December the league’s new president, Jeff, said they wanted to design a patch to sew on to the Brewers jersey to honor Jax. My wife and I decided on his number three and “Jax”. A week after Jax’s sixth birthday, Jeff invited our family to walk with the Brewers during the league’s Opening Day parade.

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“F that,” I initially thought. That’s not comfortable. But I knew it was the right thing to do. I talked to my wife, who felt the same, and we accepted Jeff’s invitation. Then I blocked it out of my head. When I over-think things I become anxious. I didn’t need my hypertension getting any more hyper.

A weekend of rain pushed Opening Day back a week, which was initially scheduled for the same day as Gray and Ellie’s third birthday. We were late out the door because Gray decided he wanted to leave the house as dressed as the Lone Ranger. He couldn’t figure out why we wouldn’t let him out the door with his white cowboy hat and shit-kicking boots, which my parents got him earlier that week for his birthday. He screamed, cried and yelled. He has the kind of complexion that when he cries hard, he ends up with red blotches covering his face. Which wouldn’t go well with photos.

Reasoning wasn’t working. Somehow, after gentle touch and a bribe of watching the Lone Ranger when we got home (with the condition that he was good), he cooperated. We hustled over to the packed park and found the tee ball Brewers lined up. No more than ten seconds later Jeff came by and found us. He presented Gray and Ellie with Brewers hats and jerseys. He saved the number three for us. My eyes started to mist. Ellie chose three and Gray grabbed the number one.

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I stood at the back of the Brewers lines with the kids and tried to explain the significance of the patch on the jersey while using my tattoo as illustration. My wife introduced herself to the coach. It turns out that he is the lead pastor of the Baptist church that supports the preschool Jax went to. He knew our story before he signed up to coach the Brewers. He went out of his way to make us feel a part of the team. He encouraged the twins to shag balls and run the bases at their practices, invited us to take pictures with the team at photo day and shared the team’s game schedule.

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My heart warmed. What I thought was going to be a very difficult, sad day turned in to a day of love for Jax and for our family. I breathed the anxiety away and allowed myself to soak in the rest.


The parade began and we walked from the left field foul line towards home plate as Jeff quickly introduced the team to the crowd of parents, grandparents and siblings looking on. The Brewers banner read “In Memory of Jaxson Keichline” at the bottom. Jeff mentioned our family to the crowd who clapped. I kept clutching Gray’s hand, looking down. I didn’t want to see them. And I didn’t want them to see my tears.

We sat on the infield grass and watched the rest of the league parade passed us. I recognized one former teammate of Jax. He’s the same age. It was hard for me to watch. Jax should’ve been there.

Gray wished he brought his glove. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t play baseball when we were done. It stoked Ellie to see so many girls on teams. As sexist as she is, it was important for her to see baseball isn’t just for boys.

Next spring Gray and Ellie will join the league. Jeff already said they’ll be on the Brewers. No doubt our number three will be with them. With that sweet lefty swing, laser-sharp focus and gorgeous smile.