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Words are hard to find after a tragic week

New Hampton Tribune and Nashua Reporter - Staff Photo - Create Article
Kaden Wilken catches his breath on second base after hitting a double in Nashua-Plainfield's win over Riceville this past season.

By Bob Fenske

The ball caught, as we who wear the blue like to say, “the black” of the plate, and I made my strike call.

Kaden Wilken stepped out of the box, gave me that mischievous smile and said, “Sure about that Bob?”

Ninety-nine-point-ninety-nine percent of the time, umpires like me are a little touchy when it comes to players — and coaches for that matter — questioning balls-and-strikes calls. They are, again 99.99 percent of the time, off limits.

But on that beautiful summer night, that Kaden Wilken grin made it one of the .01 percent times I could laugh off a complaint, if it even was one. At the very least, Kaden was half-joking with me, and he did it in a way that only the Riceville catcher and I heard his comment.

A pitch later, Wilken laced a ball into the gap for a stand-up double, and a batter later, he came home on a teammate’s base hit. As he crossed the plate, I said something like “nice hit, Kaden,” and he gave me that goofy smile that told me he had a zinger in store for me.

He did.

“That one was a strike,” he said, and we both laughed.

Fast forward three months, and I have to be honest with you. I’m at a loss for words.

Everyone in Nashua knows the tragic story. Kaden went missing last week, and on Saturday night, his body was found. He was 18.

I will not pretend that I knew Kaden well, but I covered enough of his sporting events and umpired enough games to feel an acute sense of loss when I heard the news Sunday while sitting in the living room of my son Noah’s apartment in Carbondale, Illinois.

He had his whole life ahead of him, and I have no doubt that Kaden Wilken would have found success. He had the work ethic that I know would have taken him places, and he had that smile that would brighten even the worst situations.

He was loved by his mom, dad, brother, family members, friends and so many others, and although I have been down the road they are embarking on, I can’t think of the right words to say to them, either.

Words are supposed to be my job, but they’ve failed me throughout this week. Countless times, I have sat in front of this computer trying to come up with something profound, and the words keep eluding me.

When my step-daughter, Samantha, died in 2014 at the age of 21, I wrote that “instead of remembering the awful circumstances of her death, we can recall all those great Sam stories we have and the beautiful, vibrant life she led.”

And honestly, that’s all I got today — a rerun, if you will. The same sentence with Kaden’s name instead of Sam’s.

In the coming days, weeks, months and even years, I will do my best to lift up those — especially Andy, Sara and Drew — who knew and loved this young man with that smile and quick wit that disarmed a grumpy, old umpire on that summer night just a few months ago.

I am not an overtly religious person, but when I do make it to church, one of my favorite parts of the service is the benediction. Honestly, it’s not because it comes at the end of the service, but it is because it moves me almost every time.

Today, more than ever, those that knew, loved and even umpired Kaden Wilken need to hear those words.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

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