Kaylen Eickstaedt passed away on November 15, 2011, at the young age of 25. He was the prototypical VLB player. No high school or college baseball experience. He wasn’t a spectacular athlete, usually picked at the tail end of the draft. But what Eickstaedt did on the field was more than most Veto League players can claim. He never once talked negatively about another player. He always hustled. He never complained about playing catcher, batting at the bottom of the order, or being forced out at second base. He gradually got better as the season progressed. He consistently kept his teammates motivated with high fives and words of encouragement. And while on the diamond, he always had a smile on his face. Eickstaedt had a passion for our league unmatched by most.
Veto League first met Eickstaedt in 2010. It was a forgettable July 25th for the majority of the 23 players, as the Juice Boxes beat the Goonies 11-10. But for Eickstaedt, it was the beginning of one of the highlights of his life. After his debut in 2010, Kaylen posted on our VLB Facebook group message board, “I loved playing yesterday. I look forward to playing more, just let me know when the next game is.” Eickstaedt was 0-2 in his debut — hardly what anyone would publicly admit, “Loved playing yesterday” or “Look forward to playing more.”
After just two at bats, Eickstaedt had a spirit for our league that many players have never felt.
I made Facebook connections with Eickstaedt and invited him to play in 2011. I remember him being very excited, recalling how much fun he had in the one game he played during the previous summer when his buddy John “Ceno” Rasso had brought him out to Douglas for the first time. The first weekend he played he made sure to buy two jerseys, making him an “official” VLBer — #27.
Whether it was his job, car, or life in general, he was always down on his luck. He always brought a frown to the field, but never left without a smile on his face. He showed up nearly every weekend, leaving after the first game so he could spend time with his family. He gave it his all every at bat. And he had loved the camaraderie of the players. After a dozen players failed at pronouncing his name “Eezeckstayad-t,”, Kaylan told us with a smile, ”Just remember it like this — Ike-Is-Dead”. I’m not sure why, but it’s one of those small Veto League memories I’ll never forget.
In Eickstaedt’s last game, he batted 2-for-4 under the lights at Modern Woodmen Park, scoring two runs for Veto’s Meteors. His family was in attendance to watch their son play hardball on a minor league baseball field. He was this year’s Commissioner’s Award runner-up.
He always kept me updated on his status for weekend games. This told me that he looked forward to the weekend, when he could spend time with his baseball family. He came to my house for a Fourth of July get-together. After he left, he sent me a text message saying, “Good times. More to come I’m sure.” He’s shown up for flag football games and poker get-togethers. Even though he was quiet and reserved, he always loved being in a social environment with others. I’m positive this is what he loved the most about Veto League.
The worst part about our lives is that we can’t change the past. You don’t know how much someone means to you until they’re gone. It’s a life lesson that we all take for granted — cherish those around you; you never know what tomorrow will bring. Eickstaedt had a lot of anger, frustration, and pain in his life. I talked to him a few times about his issues, but my only advice was, “Keep your head up. Things will turn around.” I regret not doing more to help him. Depression is an illness — like alcoholism, drug addiction, and cancer. Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand it. I don’t think there’s anything anyone could have done to change Eickstaedt’s mind last Tuesday. He is finally at peace. I know I will miss him. His smile. His energy. His high fives. His excitement. His motivating words. His gratitude. And most importantly, his friendship.
At his funeral on November 19th, eight Veto Leaguers made it to say our final goodbyes. Ironically, Eickstaedt filled our team as the ninth player. His obituary listed his favorite activities. “Sandlot baseball” was #1 on that list. I spoke with his grandmother and mother. Both said he always talked about how much fun he had playing sandlot baseball. It was one of the few things he seemed to enjoy in life.
Never forget #27. RIP Kaylen, you will be missed.
I’m honored to announce (props to Wesson for the idea) that the 2012 and beyond “sportsmanship” trophies will be given away as the Eick Award in memoriam of Eickstaedt’s dedication and passion for our league.