Teammates helping Mesa’s Kaiser get back on his feet
Colorado Mesa University baseball players refer to equipment day as Christmas.
They get their uniforms and ball caps those days.
Austin Kaiser had another equipment day Wednesday, but it wasn’t so exciting.
The junior from Colorado Springs tried on a new uniform in the clubhouse after getting some handshakes, hugs and several well-wishes from his teammates.
He needed a new set of jerseys and pants after he lost everything he owned, including his baseball uniform and equipment, in a gas explosion that caused the house he rented at 1742 N. Seventh St. to burn down. Kaiser lived with four other people, including three other CMU students and men’s lacrosse player Alex Zwinck.
“The other house was gone already and mine was smoking,” Kaiser said of what he first saw upon returning to the house. “I could see it from Cannell (Ave.). I literally didn’t have anything other than the clothes on my back. I was in shock. I still kind of am. I haven’t really grasped it yet.”
CMU junior Braden Box saw the fire from a distance and ran toward it knowing a teammate lives in the area.
“I made it down by the clubhouse, and I heard the boom of the first house exploding,” Box said. “I jogged down the street, made it across by the church and saw Austin’s car sitting here. I called him, he didn’t answer, so I texted him and said, ‘Where are you?’ His roommates came around and said he wasn’t there. That was a pretty scary situation.”
Kaiser was finishing up at work in the Colorado Mesa University Center game room when he received phone calls and text messages.
“Box called me, but I missed the call,” Kaiser said. “I texted him back, ‘What’s up?’ While I was waiting for that my roommate called me and told me the neighbor’s house blew up.
“As soon as I hung up with him, Box called me and said, ‘Your neighbor’s house blew up.’ “
Kaiser is in the midst of putting together a list of everything he lost in the fire to submit for a renter’s insurance claim.
In the meantime, several people have come to his aid. He stayed at a friend’s house Tuesday night and is getting help from student services at the university from books to meals. He was offered a dorm room.
“All my teammates are opening up, saying, ‘I got a place for you to stay,’ ” Kaiser said. “The community is blowing my mind, the amount of support. I feel blessed, honestly. I didn’t expect it. I feel like I don’t deserve it. It has a feeling of, ‘Why are so many people giving so much?’
“I told my brother this morning: It’s weird receiving all these gifts, not because it’s my birthday or Christmas, but because I lost everything I have. That part isn’t registering in my mind. It’s been surreal so far.”
His mom and dad made the trip Wednesday from Colorado Springs to Grand Junction to help him get his feet back on the ground. They will stay in a hotel for a few days thanks to the American Red Cross. The Red Cross gave Kaiser a gift card so he could get living essentials.
Kaiser missed Tuesday’s practice, but he was there Wednesday and will play this weekend when the No. 17 Mavericks (15-5) host Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival New Mexico Highlands (14-7) in a four-game series beginning with one game at 6 p.m. Friday at Suplizio Field.
“I saw a lot of empathy from our players toward Austin,” CMU coach Chris Hanks said. “He was concerned about missing practice. We told him go take care of stuff. Get all of that personal stuff in order, so this can be a relaxing place for you.
“I told him, ‘You take care of your personal stuff.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about practice. We’ve had plenty of reps.’ He played in almost every ball game. This is a circumstance not being at practice has any baring on playing time. He’s earned his stripes.”
When Kaiser takes the field this weekend, he will wear a different jersey. It won’t be his No. 47, but he’s happy just to have a jersey and an opportunity to play.
“Honestly, I’ll wear any number as long as I have a jersey,” Kaiser said. “As long as I have a uniform, I’m happy.”
He will wear No. 32 for a couple of weeks until a new set of uniforms with his No. 47 arrive, donated by Sports Authority in Denver, Hanks said.
Box said a half-dozen players raised their hands as soon as Hanks asked the team if anyone had a place for Kaiser to stay, and teammates are finding other ways to help him.
“I think this will strengthen us as a team,” Box said, adding, “Really, it’s a team effort. We try to stress being a brotherhood of family. It’s like when one of your family members loses everything and you do everything you can to help him out.”