K.J. Brady's mother, Michele Kadyk, was killed in a car accident in April in Mount Vernon. His UW teammates have embraced him in his time of need, and Brady has leaned on them, a symbiotic relationship that has helped ease the greatest pain in his life.
The past month, as the Huskies’ baseball program soared to unprecedented heights, has been the most fun K.J. Brady has had in his baseball career.
It has also been the most trying, grief-stricken time in his life.
That paradox has provided a poignant backdrop to Washington’s drive to its first Super Regional appearance. Brady, a reserve senior outfielder, was having a cup of coffee in his apartment April 17 when his father called with devastating news: K.J.’s mother, Michele Kadyk, had been killed in a car accident in Mount Vernon.
Nearly two months later, with the best-of-three Super Regionals beginning Friday at Cal State Fullerton, Brady has found baseball to be his best therapy. The team has embraced him in his time of need, and Brady has leaned on them, a symbiotic relationship that has helped ease the greatest pain in his life.
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“I just try to stay distracted as much as I can,’’ he said. “I don’t try to think about it a whole lot. It’s definitely been the hardest thing I’ve had to go through, for sure, not having her here anymore.”
His mom was 48. Their relationship was complicated, K.J. said, but the void he feels is deep.
“She had some challenges throughout her life and it kind of brought us apart a little bit,’’ he said. “We would text and talk. It wasn’t necessarily the closest relationship, but it wasn’t that we weren’t talking or anything like that. She was still involved in my life.”
Every now and then, something out of the blue will remind Brady of his mom and evoke waves of emotion. Playing a game against UCLA on Mother’s Day was especially tough.
“I’ll hear a song or someone will say a certain saying, and it will just make me think of her,’’ he said. “That definitely does happen. But that’s just kind of part of it. Grief doesn’t always get better in a straight line. It’s kind of a rollercoaster. Things have happened, then it sets in again. That’s happened a lot.”
Brady took just one day off from baseball after receiving the news, to be with his family in the Everett area. The next day he was back at practice and made the road trip to play California a few days later.
“I felt that’s what I needed to do,’’ he said. “I think it would have weighed on me more if I had stayed and sulked. I tried to keep the most normality I could in my life.”
The tragedy has brought the family closer – “grief kind of does that,’’ Brady said.
K.J. talks with them virtually every day, including father Kevin Brady, sister Ali Brady, 28, and brother Carson St. John, 18.
“We’re trying to lean on each other during these times,’’ he said.
Brady said his girlfriend has also been a tremendous help, along with, of course, the Husky team. Virtually all of them attended Kadyk’s funeral in Marysville. As a senior leader, Brady said he prides himself on knowing each teammate personally so he knew how best to motivate them. Now the role is reversed.
“I kind of ask a lot from them in that sense, and I guess I kind of leaned on them when this happened,’’ he said. “I put myself out there. The guys have been great. Every time something happens, or some of my emotions get going, they’re always there for me.”
And Brady, a graduate of Cascade High School in Everett, is there for them, though his senior season hasn’t gone the way he envisioned. Penciled in as the Huskies’ starting right fielder this year, Brady got off to a slow start at the plate. Just about the time he heated up, he suffered a hamstring injury that set him back a week. Now that the Huskies are driving toward a College World Series appearance, he is primarily a defensive replacement, pinch-runner and dugout motivator.
The last role is one he takes seriously.
“I feel like I’m more moral support for the guys,” he said. “I just try to keep the mood light in the dugout, try to have some fun. It’s just baseball at the end of the day. I try to get some laughs and keep it light.”
Fellow senior Levi Jordan said of Brady, “He’s gotten the short end of the stick as far as playing time. Of course, as a senior you want to go out and be playing. But instead of being down in the dumps about it, he’s completely turned our dugout around. It’s like a 12th man for us in terms of the Seahawks. It’s so awesome what he’s doing for our guys. He’s supporting all of us. He’s an absolute MVP in the dugout for us right now.”
Husky coach Lindsay Meggs highlighted Brady as a team leader Wednesday during a news conference before leaving for Fullerton.
“Just the fact he’s … not accepted, but dealt with the fact his role has not been what he wanted it to be,’’ Meggs said. “He could have had a negative vibe in the dugout, but he’s been unbelievable.
“Our older guys, playing or not, have embraced this opportunity, and K.J. has been as positive in the dugout and helpful to the coaching staff and kept everybody on task. If we’re down it’s, ‘We’re not out.’ If we’re up, ‘Hey, it’s not enough.’ ”
When Brady called the coach to tell of his mom’s passing, Meggs was at his apartment less than half an hour later to offer whatever solace he could.
“The only thing you can really do is be there, and you don’t know really what else to do,’’ Meggs said. “What can you say? K.J. is a strong kid. Nothing has ever been easy for him, in terms of not being the ideal size, and he had to fight through some depth in our program to have a role.
“I think he really felt good about the support he had from his teammates and his coaches. I think the beauty of team sports is, if you’re really a team, then you always have somebody to go to, and I think the guys were there for him. It meant a lot to him.”
Brady has already graduated with a degree in economics and envisions a career as a financial adviser. His baseball career is down to a few weeks, if not a few days. He’s going to savor every minute, even while coping with unbearable pain. K.J. says he’s ready for the next phase of his life – but not quite yet.
“This last month has honestly been the most fun I’ve ever had with a group of guys,’’ he said. “This team, we’ve really rallied around each other, and we’re playing our best baseball. It’s been so much fun. I just want it to keep going.”