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Romano: Death of bat boy Kaiser Carlile weighs on Tarpon Springs umpire

Gavin Wehby holds bat boy Kaiser Carlile moments after the 9-year-old was accidentally hit in the head during a National Baseball Congress World Series game in Wichita, Kan, on Aug. 1. Mark Goldfeder, a firefighter/paramedic from Tarpon Springs, was the home plate umpire and he immediately began offering first aid to the boy. Kaiser died the next day. [Earl Watt | Leader & Times via AP]

The sun was brutal, and the equipment he was wearing made it worse. The pay was minimal, and largely eaten up by the 1,400-mile, nonstop drive he had just knocked out.

To Mark Goldfeder, this was vacation. And the firefighter/paramedic from Tarpon Springs would have it no other way.

For 15 years he has traveled each summer to Wichita, Kan., to be an umpire at the National Baseball Congress World Series for collegiate players. Just hours after arriving last weekend, he was behind the plate for a 1 p.m. game he wasn't originally scheduled to work.

The first out had just been recorded in the third inning and Goldfeder was checking his scorecard when he heard an out-of-place thud behind him. He turned in time to see a diminutive bat boy get up from the ground, take a few wobbly steps and collapse.

• • •

By now, the tragic story of 9-year-old Kaiser Carlile has traveled the globe. Even European readers have seen the newspaper photo of a ballplayer holding Kaiser to his chest with a look of anguish beginning to spread across the young man's face.

Kaiser, who was wearing a helmet, had been running to the plate to retrieve a bat at the exact moment the on-deck hitter was taking a practice swing. The swing apparently hit Kaiser flush in the head, and within 24 hours the boy's life would be lost.

The photo of Kaiser in the ballplayer's arms inadvertently captures the intersection of Mark Goldfeder's two worlds. Still holding his umpiring mask in his left hand, Goldfeder approached the ballplayer and identified himself as a firefighter.

"I could see right away that Kaiser was limp in his arms, and my training automatically kicked in," Goldfeder said. "I told him, 'Stop, stop, stop. You need to put him down.' I could already tell it was a critical situation. Kaiser's eyes were open, but he was unconscious and unresponsive. He was still breathing, but not very fast."

Goldfeder, 42, began checking Kaiser's vital signs while instructing bystanders to call 911, and asking if anyone had seen whether the wooden bat had hit the boy in the helmet or on the back of his neck. A paramedic crew from Wichita was outside the stadium treating a woman for heat exhaustion and was quickly on the scene too.

Kaiser's aunt and grandfather, who were with him at the game, made their way down to the field, as Goldfeder tried to keep others from crowding around.

There was little treatment that could be administered other than providing oxygen and trying to keep the boy stable while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

"I won't go into details," Goldfeder said. "But his status deteriorated right in front of me on the field."

After the ambulance departed, someone retrieved a chair for Goldfeder and a wet towel to cool off. Players from Kaiser's team, the Liberal (Kan.) Bee Jays, huddled in leftfield to say a prayer. Goldfeder said he and tournament officials were willing to suspend the game, but the players wanted to continue in Kaiser's honor.

When play resumed after about 45 minutes, Goldfeder was given a standing ovation as he returned to home plate. Liberal went on to win in 13 innings, and days later advanced to the tournament semifinals with a ninth-inning comeback victory.

Memorials for Kaiser have sprung up around the stadium, and a account (BigHits4Kaiser) started by the Liberal team has already raised more than $118,000 to pay for medical/funeral expenses and to start a scholarship fund in Kaiser's name.

A pregame ceremony was held before Liberal's game on Tuesday, and Goldfeder was asked to deliver the ball to the mound where Kaiser's sister Keirsie threw out the first pitch.

Goldfeder was supposed to be back home by now, but instead is arranging for his shifts in Tarpon Springs to be covered, so he can remain for Kaiser's funeral on Tuesday. A father of a 5-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, Goldfeder has been pondering recent conversations he'd had with his wife about potentially bringing his daughter, Kaylee, along one summer to be his ball girl for games.

"We all have our own ways of coping," Goldfeder said. "But I can tell you, whether you're a rookie or a 30-year veteran, the kid calls are always the hardest to deal with."

For Goldfeder, being back on the field was the best thing for him. He's been working in ballparks since his father steered him toward an umpiring clinic as a 14-year-old growing up in New Jersey. His springs are now spent juggling firehouse duties with assignments at college baseball games around Florida and Georgia.

It was his focus on the World Series games that carried him through the first few days after the Aug. 1 tragedy. Then, on Tuesday, Kaiser's family asked to meet with him in the umpire's locker room at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium after the pregame ceremony.

Thanks, condolences and hugs were all exchanged in the brief meeting, and then the Carlile family made their way back upstairs.

With nowhere else to go, Goldfeder headed for the stool in front of his locker. And with other umpires coming and going around him, he sat and quietly cried.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.