John’s Journal: “He’ll Always Be With Us”
Adrian Baseball Team Remembers, Plays For Carter Braun
Posted: Friday, June 11, 2021 - 12:23 PM
MILROY – When the winning run was scored on a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday night, ending a grueling day of doubleheader baseball with an unlikely trip to the state tournament at stake, the Adrian/Ellsworth Dragons hooped and hollered and hugged. They received their Class A Section 3 championship trophy and gold medals and were heading to the outfield to pose for photos in front of the scoreboard.
Qualifying for state was big, but coach Joe Kruger knew what was even more important. He told the boys, “Get Carter’s jersey. He’s definitely with us.”
Carter Braun’s No. 8 jersey has been on the bench with the Dragons all along, ever since he was killed in a vehicle accident two years ago this month. There are six juniors on the team roster; that number is seven when you include Carter. And Carter is included in everything.
When the boys put their hands together and count off 1-2-3, they don’t end with “Dragons!” They holler “Carter!”
“He’s a big part of the team,” said Kruger, whose son Charles, 5, held Carter’s jersey, with a gold medal draped on it, as photos were taken.
The Dragons had a record of 9-11 in the regular season before embarking on a dream-worthy postseason. They were seeded sixth among seven teams in their portion of the 15-team section playoff bracket. But they rattled off four wins to secure a spot in Thursday’s championship round. They needed to beat second-seeded Yellow Medicine East once to go to state, while the YME Sting needed to beat the Dragons twice to do the same.
YME won the first game 3-2 before Adrian/Ellsworth won the deciding game 4-3. The Dragons will take a record of 14-12 to the Class A state tournament in St. Cloud on Tuesday. Outfielder Marshall Wagner is the only senior on the team; the lineup Thursday also included four juniors and four sophomores.
No one would argue that Thursday’s games were stellar examples of crisp baseball. The teams combined for 42 strikeouts, 23 walks and eight batters hit by pitches in the doubleheader.
“Those are not the two best games we’ve played but that doesn't matter at this point,” Kruger said as players and families mingled on the field.
Kim Braun, Carter’s mother, watched the team play Thursday for the first time since her son died. Carter spent time with the varsity late in his freshman season and there was no baseball last year when Covid-19 wiped out all high school spring sports.
"It would have been bittersweet last year watching them,” Kim said earlier this week. “This year I haven’t been able to watch a game because I was afraid I would cry the whole time.”
Last Saturday, before the Dragons boarded a bus for the trip to Milroy and a game against top-seeded MACCRAY, Carter’s family – Kim and Andy, son Easton and daughter Jacey -- met them with sports drinks and cinnamon rolls. Each player was given a hand-written note, telling the boys that Carter was still with them.
“I am so proud of the boys on the team for how far they have come,” Kim said. “Carter was best friends with a handful of the kids on the team, but more importantly he was friends with each and every one of them. It is such an honor that they do things to keep his memory alive, and even though they probably don't know this, they are what keeps me going.”
Carter also played high school hockey with a cooperative team based in Luverne, as well as football. He was a prankster, always ready with a smile and a joke, and everybody liked him.
“He was just an all-around jokester,” said classmate and close friend Isaac Bullerman. “He'd always tell jokes, give us a good time. When somebody was down he'd come in and make a joke and kind of pick them up a little bit and get you back to where you're supposed to be.”
After Carter’s death two Junes ago, the visitation conflicted with a summer league baseball game. Some of the players wondered if they should cancel the game, but Carter’s family found time for them to come in privately before their game.
Struggles continue. Carter had used his mom’s email address as a contact for college recruiting sites, and she occasionally receives emails meant for her son. She can’t bear to respond with the news that Carter is gone.
“I could feel Carter's presence throughout the game, but I feel at the end, his presence was stronger than ever,” she wrote in a text the morning after the games against YME.
“No parent should ever have to lose a child. It's the hardest thing I have gone through and continue to go through in my life. When my Carter is remembered and included, it does soften the pain, and makes me realize how blessed my family is to have a community like Adrian, who supports us and keeps Carter's memory alive.”
After Thursday’s clinching win, Bullerman talked about the team having Carter’s jersey with them every step of the way.
“It means the world to me,” he said. “I lost my best friend a couple years ago. We didn't play the best tonight, I will admit that. But he was here, he was with us and that's what made us win the game. He was here.”
As for the trip to state, Isaac said, “It feels amazing. We're going to carry Carter's jersey with us and it'll always be with us. He'll always be with us.”
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org