Family, friends still coping with Bateson’s death
Kenny Bateson used to share his music room with his daughter, Krystal. She would work on the computer while he strummed on his guitar. One night Kenny played a song that caught Krystal's ear. Krystal had said that she wanted to learn how to play the guitar.
"She didn't have the time, but she tried. She said I'll play guitar with you when I get older," Kenny said.
Kenny and Krystal would never get that opportunity. Krystal should be celebrating her 15th birthday on Saturday. But her death while on a trip for a softball tournament on June 13, 2004, in Wellington changed all of that. Her cause of death is still inconclusive.
He now shares the musical connection he found with his daughter in a different way. He has since added verses to the song that caught Krystal's attention, which Kenny called "She's my angel."
"She makes me wonder with the name of the song," he said. "I didn't write it. It just came out."
Since Kenny and David -- her brother -- were still in Baldwin when Krystal died, the Phenix softball team members consoled her mother, Theresa, who was with her, while they made the drive down to Wellington.
"I feel close to them because they were there when it happened," Theresa said.
The Phenix players were with Batesons for the weeks that came after Krystals' death and still are today.
"Last year everyone was in shock, they were inconsolable," said Julie Craig, a family friend of the Bateson's. "We didn't know how to help them because we had never gone through losing someone like that."
One year later, Krystal's memory is still alive. Her name is still on the lineup card that they keep in their dugout. Her ball bag is still there, too. The team made a banner in her memory that they hang on their dugout every game. Her number, 2, is on the front of their jerseys, but she is not out at first base anymore. Teams usually ask the Phenix why they have the number two on their jersey, said Callie Craig, one of Krystal's best friends and longtime schoolmate.
Krystal's teammates and friends gathered together at her gravesite a couple days after the one-year anniversary of her death. Meeting all of Krystal's friends didn't make it harder for the Batesons; it just reminded them of what they didn't have anymore.
"It was going to be hard if they were there or not," Theresa said.
It has been especially hard because they are able to see Krystal's friends make the inevitable metamorphosis through adolescence that she never got to do.
"It's hard hearing them talk about playing high school softball because that's what Krystal always wanted to do," Theresa said.
At the memorial, Kenny played the song he had shared with his daughter while she was alive. Playing music is how Kenny has found refuge since Krystal's death. "He's played more music this year than ever before," Theresa said.
"Whenever I have troubles I just pick up my guitar," Kenny said. "My music helps me quite a bit."
For Theresa on the other hand, filling the down time without Krystal has been a challenge.
"I had to ask myself 'What do I do with all of my time?' I went from being so, so busy to nothing, and that's been the hardest part," Theresa said.
She has been helping out her brother who owns Baldwin Athletic Club and still eats lunch with the mothers of Krystal's friends every once and a while. Theresa spends time with David going to his band concerts and watching him play in the band at the football and basketball games. She was a chaperone for Baldwin High School band's trip to Orlando, a trip that Krystal would have gone on also. David's interests have also led her to pick up a new hobby.
"I want to pick up golf so I can be out with the guys (David and Kenny)," Theresa said. "I don't want to be left at home."
Although Krystal never shared the interest in golf, Theresa said, David and Krystal had a special connection as brother and sister that stemmed from the way they were born 18 months apart to the day.
"We knew if our kids were born in a good environment, had a good home, good parents, had things provided for them, they'd grow up to be good friends," Kenny said. "And that's what they were. Good friends."
They showed rabbits, lambs and pigs together in 4-H. They watched professional wrestling together. David keeps a picture of Krystal wearing a T-Shirt with her favorite wrestler, Eddie Guerrero, on it.
David still struggles with the loss of Krystal because he didn't lose just a sister.
"He's probably more lost than we are," Kenny said.
The way Kenny and Theresa's lives revolved around their children made this even more of a life-altering experience.
"She wanted to do it all, and we didn't stop her," Kenny said. "She just amazed us and amazed us with all she wanted to do. She was so responsible. She was easy; that self-maintenance type of teenager as long as she got her perks."
The Batesons loved traveling with their children. They started taking weekend road trips throughout the Midwest to show their Rex rabbits when Krystal was 7 years old.
"When we traveled with our children we were doing something we all enjoyed," Kenny said.
At one time the Batesons had more than 130 rabbits and 15 cats. And Krystal had names for all of them. They still have her first cat, Benny Boo. They've also raised sheep and lambs.
Two pictures of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig still hang on the refrigerator. The Batesons still have the dozens of trophies, plaques and medals that Krystal won throughout her years showing her rabbits in their living room. That they haven't changed and they've kept her room the same, but everything is different now.
"It's been really quiet around here without her," Kenny said. "So quiet you can hear the clock tick."
The Batesons sold all of their 49 rabbits and that cat population has dwindled to less than 10.
Kenny continued to coach Krystal's competitive volleyball team, the Midwest Juniors 14-and-under squad this fall, but it wasn't the same.
"They weren't as competitive as they would be with Krystal's presence on the floor. She would have been disappointed," Kenny said of the volleyball players. The Baldwin High School team wore charms on their shoes in Krystal's memory. For the Batesons, Krystal's presence is hard to shake.
"She's been at my office, in my car, she went so many places that it's hard not to think of her," Theresa said. "It's not that I don't want to think of her, but it's hard to think of what we don't have. It's hard to go to a Phenix game because she's supposed to be on first."
Kenny feels the same way.
"It's hard to go to the activities," he said. "You want to go there but, why? I really enjoyed watching the kids and being in the atmosphere. I tried it at first but it was too hard. I just saw Krystal everywhere."
The Batesons still do everything together, but it continues to bring up memories of Krystal. Last weekend they went to a golf tournament to help support Baldwin High School. Last year, Krystal had reluctantly gone to help run the beverage carts.
"I looked down the fairway on six and see a load of girls on this one cart and there's Krystal driving," Kenny said.
Krystal was in her element driving the cart and being with her friends.
"I haven't met a person that didn't like Krystal or even had anything bad to say about her," Kenny said.
Callie said that Krystal was special because she was a great friend who she talked to about everything and was fun to be around. While Krystal had many attributes that were unique, one is unforgettable.
"Her laugh was hilarious," Callie said.
Whether it was golf carts or driving Kenny's truck around the yard, Krystal did anything she could to get her driving practice in.
"She would be driving around the yard and when she got to the corner she'd always put her turn signal on," Theresa said. "She'd come in and ask, 'Mom did I do a good job on using my signals?'"
She helped David, who was one year ahead of Krystal in school, study for his driving test.
"She was really looking forward to driving," Kenny said.
Sometimes Kenny sees a girl driving down the road and it reminds him of Krystal.
"It stirs up all these memories and 'what ifs' and 'shoulda, couldas and wouldas,' but you try to put them on the back burner because there is always something there to remind you."
Thinking about all of the good times has helped them to cope.
"You think of good things because there's not really any bad memories, "Kenny said. "I have no regrets. You read all of these horror stories about families, but she lived life to the fullest and loved us and we loved her," Kenny said. "That's what helps me -- the 13 years we had with her. They were great years. They weren't bad at all."
In their year of firsts without Krystal, the Batesons have been exposed to a new way of life that has challenged them and caused them to deviate from their expectations. They didn't put up a tree for Christmas; they didn't even want to celebrate Christmas if they couldn't do it with her. Next year they will put up a small tree and add ornaments each year in Krystal's memory. Not getting to see his daughter do the things she wanted like drive or play the guitar makes him realize how his daughter's death has changed his family.
"I've been with Theresa when someone has been complaining about their daughter and she just looks at them and says "I'll take her,'" said Diane Weege, a family friend whose daughter also plays for the Phenix.
Now that Krystal is not with the Batesons in the physical sense, they find reprieve that every time Kenny plays his song she is still with them the way his lyrics suggest -- as their angel watching over them.
"I thought I had everything as a person and as a dad," Kenny said. "That's been shot down. My goals were to raise my kids giving them everything I never had. We've had such good intentions."