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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.