LIVINGSTON, NJ — In the month leading up to the 2018 MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., Major League Baseball (MLB) has been profiling Little League stories from all over the area, including Livingston Little League (LLL) on Sunday during the MLB Sunday Night Countdown. The segment specifically highlighted the league’s Knock Cancer Out of the Park (KCOP) campaign that was started in honor of Jake Kestler, a Livingston teen battling brain cancer and a massive New York Yankees fan.
The segment, which aired during this week’s “Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown” hosted by sports commenter Adnan Virk, sports analyst Tim Kurkjian and former Cubs catcher David Ross, featured photos and videos that summed up the 13 year old’s love for baseball, which he has played in Livingston since T-Ball at age five, and the LLL community’s effort to raise funds for cancer research.
“My dad taught me to play baseball and I taught my son—it’s just something that’s been part of our lives forever,” Jake’s father, Josh Kestler, stated during the segment, adding that he engrained New York Yankees baseball into Jake’s head from a very young age.
At age seven in 2012, Jake was diagnosed with Leukemia, but his sister, Lily, was a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant, and was able to help her brother beat the disease. Jake told ESPN that he is extremely proud of his sister.
Although he returned to the baseball diamond, Jake was later diagnosed with brain cancer in December 2016, which Josh told ESPN was “the shock of our lives.”
“Obviously, as a mom, it’s the worst thing you could ever imagine watching your child go through something like this,” Jake’s mother, Gallitte Kestler, told ESPN. “But at the same time, Jake has made it easy, if that makes any sense—he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t ask ‘why me,’ he finds a way to laugh and have fun every day.”
As Jake began his final LLL season last spring, LLL volunteer Steven Arsht began the KCOP campaign, where every home run hit in the Major League division during the season raises $100 for rare cancer research. In honor of their teammate, all of the players on Jake’s own Major League division team, the Yankees, wear “Team Jake” on the back of their uniforms.
“I wanted the baseball field to continue to be a place of happiness for him,” said Arsht. “To be a place where he could come and feel welcome; to be with his friends and to still have the same great memories that he’s had for all of these years.”
Arsht’s son, Hayden, who is one of Jake’s good friends, also spoke during the MLB segment, stating that every time he gets up to bat, he thinks about getting a home run in order to raise money for Jake.
“It makes me want to hit more, and when people hit home runs off me, I didn’t really care because I knew it was supporting Jake,” said teammate and pitcher Brady Ehrlich.
LLL president Pat Ippolito told ESPN that the campaign brings the whole league together and encourages team building and being supportive of each other, which is a “very significant part of Little League,” he said.
“It wasn’t just ‘Team Jake New York Yankees,’ it was Team Jake Livingston Little League Baseball,” said Arsht.
Virk extended “kudos” to all of the kids “doing wonderful work” in Livingston and raising money for this important cause.
“I hope [KCOP] helps other people who have cancer and kids can get better cancer treatment,” said Jake. “The team has made me really happy and baseball makes me happy.”
On Monday night, Mayor Ed Meinhardt acknowledged the ESPN segment, stating that it was another great example of the strength of Livingston's "volunteerism spirit."
"[Arsht] is planning on making this a bigger and bigger thing...His heart is really into it," said Councilman Shawn Klein, adding that Livingston is lucky to have so many residents who have taken on huge charity endeavors like this one.
The segment was aired twice due to the rain out of the Mets vs. Yankees game on Sunday night.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has created a donation page for the campaign, which can be found HERE.
To read previous articles about this campaign, click on the headlines below:
All photos were taken from Sunday's ESPN segment on Jake Kestler and KCOP.