NILES, Mich. (WNDU) - “We are a baseball family,” Brandywine Cal Ripken President Joe Dandurand said.
The Brandywine Cal Ripken league in Niles is mourning the loss of one of its own. Seven-year-old Ayden Smith accidentally drowned over the weekend.
“He was a very eccentric young man,” Dandurand said. “He was always happy. He was hard on himself when he didn't hit the ball or didn’t get to the base. But just seeing the man that he was becoming over the years, it was just absolutely amazing the kind of person he was.”
A couple hundred people packed the infield Monday evening for a candlelight vigil, with teammates and parents honoring Ayden.
“It's extremely important for the family to know how much they meant to this community and to let them know how much everybody loved Ayden,” Dandurand said. “If you ever got to see him play, he always had a smile on his face, just the happiest kid ever.”
The league's president said they have received support not just locally but from across the country, from as far as Texas.
“Baseball in itself is a community,” Dandurand said. “It's not just this one specific spot.”
The league's hearts are heavy, with coaches and parents left to comfort dozens of players.
“There's not much you can say,” Dandurand said. “I give them all hugs and just tell them, ‘Hey, I hate for this to happen to any of us, any of our kids.’ This league's 278 children in it, and I'd hate for it to happen to anybody. Not in our league. Not anybody's league. Just a tragic accident. Tragic.”
The vigil ended with a final cheer: “1, 2, 3, Ayden Smith!”
The season is already over for the league. But next year, the league's president says all jerseys will have Ayden's initials, as well as his number on the shoulder.
There will also be a banner in the outfield so he will be there with them in spirit.
If you would like to donate to the GoFundMe for the Smith family, click here.