In the first game since Blackfoot senior first baseman Cole Baler died in a car crash, the Blackfoot and Pocatello high school baseball teams honored Baler and his family Wednesday.
Blackfoot placed Baler’s No. 11 jersey, glove and hat at the empty first base before Wednesday’s home game. Pacen Hayes, friends with Baler since he was 9, then walked Baler’s mother, Kindra, to the bag to retrieve them.
Fittingly, the game’s first ground ball found Hayes, playing first base in Baler’s absence.
“The last few days, it’s been all of us together,” Hayes told the Idaho State Journal. “That is what you have to do. It’s helped everyone a ton. It’s a roller coaster for all of us.
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“One minute, you are just all right — not good — and the next minute you are falling apart. It’s uncontrollable.”
Baler, 18, died around 2 a.m. Sunday after a rollover crash in rural Bonneville County. A passenger in an SUV, he was ejected and died at the scene.
Blackfoot also honored Baler on Wednesday by scribbling “CB11” on its hats, and when his cleanup spot came up to bat in the bottom of the first inning, Pocatello threw a pitch to an empty batter’s box.
Each Pocatello player wore one green sock, Blackfoot’s school color, and the Indians presented Blackfoot with No. 11 bandannas signed by every player.
“It hurts,” Blackfoot coach Liam Pope told the (Idaho Falls) Post Register. “The boys weren’t just teammates; they were friends. Cole was vibrant, fun, loud. You always knew his opinion. … The type of guy you really wanted as a teammate. You might not enjoy playing him, but you wanted him in the trenches with you.”
Blackfoot hosted its senior night Friday, and each Bronco was wearing a custom No. 11 jersey. After the game, Blackfoot planned to retire Baler’s number.
A GoFundMe account to cover Baler’s funeral expenses started with a goal of $8,000 but had raised more than $13,000 as of Friday afternoon. His funeral was Thursday in Idaho Falls.