If you’re keeping a scorebook at home, credit the Bonzai softball team with an assist and a few sacrifices. They won the Sandy league championship recently, and along the way they made Kevin Webb part of the team and brought some joy to his life.
Kevin has a large facial birthmark and a litany of health challenges that draw stares and occasional derision. He’s got bones that snap like kindling (he’s sporting another cast these days). He’s got a neuromuscular system that goes haywire without medication. His left side needs a reboot.
He’s not even supposed to be alive.
The only thing that always seems to work is the smile, even if it is a little crooked.
Kevin was left behind by his peers a long time ago. He lives for connections with the world outside his home — which is why he is on the phone so much — especially the connection he has made with the softball team, a group of high school friends in their mid-20s. They gave Kevin acceptance, love, friendship, the title of coach and a trophy.
It seemed only karmic that they won the championship.
“The team loves Kevin,” says Riley Taylor. “It’s worth it just to see how excited he gets.”
“Kevin is a special person, and we love having him as our coach,” says Taylor’s cousin, Harrison Taylor. “No doubt he’s the heart of the team.”
The first thing the boys did after winning the championship was gather around Kevin for his traditional post-game ceremony, which includes a speech and — wait for it — a long, drawn-out wolf cry. Then they handed him the trophy, lifted him on their shoulders and posed for photos.
“That was an electric moment,” says Dave Taylor, who has three sons on the team and has known Kevin for much of his life. “I’ll never forget it.”
When all was said and done, the players sent the trophy home with Kevin, where it remains on a table just inside the front door.
“He woke me up at 11:30 to tell me all about it,” says Kevin’s older brother, Brent. “He’s done that all season — he comes home and talks about the games. I can’t say enough good about those guys on the team. They were phenomenal with Kevin, and it’s meant so much to him. They really lifted his spirits after all the negative things that have happened to him.”
Kevin’s mother Opal passed away more than a year ago at 88; his father Arnold passed away in April at 92. Brent, who had promised his parents he would take care of Kevin after they were gone, moved into his parents’ home.
Kevin, who is 49, had lived with his parents his entire life. From the start, he had medical problems. He is prone to seizures and has a partial paralysis in his left side that is slowly sneaking into the right side.
“Doctors didn’t think he’d live past 20,” says Brent.
Over the years, doctors were able to tweak Kevin’s medications to control the seizures (he hasn’t had one in 25 years), but there is a long list of other problems.
The right side of his face is nearly covered by a dark, wine-colored birthmark. According to Brent, the birthmark is not just superficial – it extends into his brain and his mouth, creating deformity and pushing his teeth off to the left, which makes eating difficult.
He suffers from osteoporosis, which makes his bones brittle. What appeared to be a harmless fall onto grass this summer left him with five fractures in his right arm. Add it to the list. Over the years, Kevin has been kicked by a horse, hit by a truck and tripped over a rock, resulting in more broken bones. He has endured four operations to remove cysts, stretch tendons and pin broken bones.
Early on, Kevin knew he was different, and even if he didn’t there were people around to remind him. Kids made fun of his appearance or pointed; parents hustled away curious children.
“It hurts my feelings,” he says. “I’d rather people just ask questions.”
The social awkwardness is a loss for both sides. Kevin has a dazzling memory, self-awareness, a sense of humor and a loud, outgoing personality. “There were kids who were cruel and then got to know him and didn’t see his birthmark anymore,” says Dave. “Kevin is a positive guy and very honest. His spirit is probably 6-foot-4 and built like a linebacker.”
Perhaps having needed empathy himself, he is quick to feel empathy. During the softball season, a player on the opposing team was injured in a game against the Bonzai. A week later, Kevin brought a sympathy card to the game for the team to sign and gave it to the injured player.
“He had written a nice note to the player on the card,” says Harrison.
Kevin, an Eagle Scout with 63 merit badges, has served as an assistant Scoutmaster in a special needs Boy Scout troop for two decades. While Brent is at work, Kevin spends much of his considerable free time mowing lawns for a local garage and calling friends.
“He loves to talk on the phone,” says Dave. “He keeps track of everybody.”
About 30 years ago, Dave’s family — David Sr. and Georgie Taylor and their five children — befriended Kevin and invited him into their lives. The Taylors became his second family. He was a guest in their home for Christmas Eve and other holiday events and family parties. When one of the Taylor boys, Steve, got married, Kevin stood in the wedding line as one of his best men. When Dave was serving a church mission, Kevin wrote him letters — “49 of them,” corrects Kevin.
“I’m not even sure how it happened,” says Steve, “but he became part of the family. We love Kevin.”
The Bonzai team is made up of the Taylors — brothers, cousins, in-laws — and their friends. Kevin, a frequent sight on his bike around Draper and Sandy, likes to hang out at the ballpark on summer evenings, and last summer he was invited to join the Bonzai.
“We need a coach,” they told him.
He serves as a base coach and the resident cheerleader and dispenser of Kevinisms: “Put an HR on that ball and kiss it goodbye!” “Tighten up that defense now!” When things aren’t going well, he turns his John Deer “rally” cap backwards and sideways. When players come off the field, he scolds them for errors and offers advice, often in a pointed fashion, which the players take in stride.
“Don’t speak to me tonight, I’m mad at you,” he told one player as he came off the field after an error. Later he told the player, “I’m sorry I got so mad at you.”
“Sometimes I have to get after the players,” Kevin explains. “I tell them, if the ball’s coming, get your mitt down and use your whole body.”
Kevin never misses a game, but he was late once. As soon as he arrived, the players stopped pre-game warmups and gathered around him. When Kevin was unable to ride his bike to the park this summer because of the broken arm, the players arranged to drive him to and from the park.
“The boys took Kevin under their wings,” says Brent.
Brent, a parole officer and retired Sandy City policeman, says he has gotten to know his younger brother in a new way since moving into his parents’ home.
“I don’t look at him as having a handicap,” he says. “He’s just my brother, and when he has a problem we talk about things he can do about it. Mom and Dad sheltered him some. I want him to see what it’s like to be normal. I’ve taken him places, and so have the Taylors. And he’s been involved with softball. I tell him there’s a whole other world out there and he needs to see it.”
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org