LIVINGSTON, NJ — Shortly after April 14 was deemed Knock Cancer Out of the Park Day during the Livingston Little League opening ceremony in honor of 13-year-old Jake Kestler, the Livingston High School varsity baseball team invited Jake to serve as the Lancers’ honorary captain in their 10-0 victory over Newark East Side on Saturday afternoon.
The Knock Cancer Out of the Park (KCOP) campaign, created last year by Steve Arsht, was inspired by Jake, who was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was seven and then with brain cancer in December 2016. For every home run hit in the 2018 season in the Major League Division of the Livingston Little League, the KCOP campaign will donate $100 directly to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for pediatric cancer research.
To support this cause, the 60 players of the varsity, junior varsity and freshmen baseball teams traveled together to the Little League opening ceremony to support Jake as he threw the celebratory first pitch. Later that afternoon, the varsity players donned “TEAM JAKE” jerseys with Jake’s favorite number, seven, on the back as they took on Newark East Side.
“From Northland, where he watched his TEAM JAKE New York Yankees win in walk-off fashion, to the Oval, where Coach [Mickey] Ennis and his team welcomed Jake with open arms…the way he was supported, cared for, and included was just amazing,” said Arsht. “I must say, watching Coach Ennis and Coach [Dave] Mclaughlin take care of Jake in the dugout and seeing the kids on the team include Jake in everything was over the top. It brought a tear to my eye.”
Jake walked out onto the field to his favorite song, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, which is the same walkout song as one of his favorite New York Yankees, Mariano Rivera. He then led the Lancers’ pregame pep talk, and even made a few calls during the game that included two stolen bases by leadoff hitter Brett Mendez, who currently leads the state in stolen bases and produced the first run of the game.
“I think it was a special day for Livingston,” said Ennis. “A lot of people came together for a few hours on a baseball field to realize that there are so many more important things than baseball. As much as we love the game, it’s not the most important thing in the world. For our kids and for Jake to spend a few hours together in the dugout, to me that was the most important part of the day.”
Ennis added that when he told the opposing coaches and players about the team’s plans for recognizing Jake, including having all of the Livingston players wear a jersey with the same number in Jake’s honor, they “were all in, 100 percent.” He said the umpires also supported the endeavor, calling the TEAM JAKE shirt an “honorary jersey” and allowing the players to wear them for the full game.
“I told every player that suited up for that game how proud I was of them, and it had nothing to do with the baseball game,” said Ennis. “I’m really proud of how our kids interacted with Jake during the game and it was just a great day on a Livingston baseball field.”
Jake’s father, Josh Kestler, said Jake was honored to throw out the first pitch at Little League Opening Day, but that the highlight of his day was serving as the honorary captain of the high school varsity baseball team. He said that Ennis, the coaching staff and all of the players “really welcomed Jake and made him feel at home.”
“Jake told me that he felt ‘awesome’ being part of the team—he has not stopped talking about the experience,” said Josh. “Jake had a blast watching Livingston win 10-0 and feeling like a member of the team. I was so impressed with the players and how they embraced Jake and interacted with him. Coach Ennis and all of the parents have a lot to be proud of.”
Josh added that his son hopes to attend more games and to support the team throughout the season.
Arsht also said that he would like to work with Ennis to develop a special TEAM JAKE award to be given out at the end of the season to a high school player who exemplifies “all of the great qualities we look for in a total team player.”
Click HERE to read about the Livingston Little League and Softball opening day ceremony.