BLUFFDALE — Kolby Hamblin's dad and high school baseball teammates were waiting on a bus to travel to their second-to-last regular season game when they watched something horrific happen to their team captain.
While fetching a bucket of baseballs from the Summit Academy High shed, the younger Hamblin was hit by a car in the school parking lot. The all-region shortstop suffered a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, four cracked ribs and broken bones in his forearm.
He thought he was going to die. Somebody actually told his sister a bit later that he had passed away. His dad and teammates witnessed the tragedy. Gary Hamblin, an assistant and the only coach on the bus, rushed out to his son's side in what he calls "an unforgettable moment of horror and fear."
"I don't remember everything," Kolby said. "I just remember after getting hit, jumping up and running to my dad. I couldn't breathe. I was just hurting so much. I couldn't focus on anything."
Kolby and his dad hugged. Gary said his son looked pale and full of fear, and remembers his broken arm extending at an awkward angle.
"I laid him down, and he looked up at me and asked me if he’s going to die," Gary said, adding that he's grateful to have been there for his son.
For a brief moment, Kolby looked at the team bus and saw his teammates fearfully peering out their windows. The talented and competitive teen thought about how he wouldn't be able to play baseball with them again. Nobody played that day. Their game against Manti was canceled, and Kolby was taken by ambulance to the hospital trauma unit for emergency surgery to cauterize his splenic artery and place four plates in his shattered arm.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and that traumatic moment and the way Kolby and his baseball buddies moved forward from this tragic incident rallied the Bears to advance further into the 3A state tournament than anybody expected.
Inspired by Kolby, Summit Academy made it to the championship game before losing to Richfield, a talented team that was also playing for something bigger than itself. The Wildcats' title was a tribute to winning pitcher Morgan Albrecht's mom, Annicka, who died from cancer in February.
After the game, Albrecht told the Deseret News' James Edward, "I felt like my mom was with me through the whole thing."
Summit Academy was also buoyed by Hamblin's presence throughout the playoffs.
The boys surrounded Kolby at his bedside during his four-day hospital stay. They marked hats with #13 and KH on the sides. They wrote "Play for 13" on their arms and wore orange rubber bracelets with similar messages. They traced the No. 13 in the dirt with their bats and cleats.
"They showered him with their friendship, love, concern and committment to 'play for 13,'" his dad said.
Second baseman Josh Stroud rotated to shortstop to fill in for Hamblin, and JV player Mark Romero took over his spot. The team won its final two games and had a special visitor for its first playoff game just six days after the accident.
Kolby left the hospital late Thursday night and was determined to attend his team's playoff game that weekend. It required an uncomfortable one-hour drive, but he was treated to two Summit Academy wins, 12-0 over Emery and 6-1 against Juab.
The senior was there again the following week when Summit Academy beat Manti to remain in the winners bracket before slipping against the eventual champs and only other undefeated team, Richfield. The Bears got some more bad news in their next elimination game when Kolby's backup, Stroud, injured his knee on a collision with a baserunner at second. Summit shuffled its lineup, bringing freshman Colt Lang into the game at third, and he promptly tagged out a runner after a throw from catcher Caden Rigtrup. The Bears beat Union, 7-6.
"It was a rough time for Kolby and his team. Emotions and concern (were) running high," Gary Hamblin said. "Losing this caliber of a player was going to make the road to the championship that much more difficult."
Their unexpected run as a shorthanded third-place finisher in their region came to an end against the Wildcats, but they showed a lot of heart.
"Being a champion isn't always about winning the championship game," Gary Hamblin said. "Sometimes it's how we get there and how we play. Never have I seen such awesome boys rally around a player like they did those two weeks around their captain and team MVP Kolby Hamblin. Their devotion to him and each other and the way they went about it was something for the movies."
Kolby's heart was warmed by his friends, but it was still a difficult situation. He should be healthy enough to play for Miles City Community College in Montana this fall, but he missed his last chance to be on the diamond with his high school pals.
Despite the painful turn of events, they left him a sweet memory.
"I felt like I motivated them a lot," he said, "but it was hard to be at the games watching them play and not playing with them."Comment on this story
"It was a hard experience, right?" his dad added. "But there were so many cool things that came out of it. These boys on his team, they truly were champions."
Not counting Kolby's survival and healing, perhaps the best part of the story was the compassion he showed. He texted the young man who hit him and invited him to come to the hospital.
"He let him know everything was OK with what happened," his dad said. "He's very forgiving. It was nice to see. That's a good example."
Kolby's sense of humor remains intact. Asked what he's learned from this experience, he gave a simple response.
"Look both ways."