Baseball team honors player who died heading to championship - FOX Carolina 21

Little League team honors player who died heading to championship

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Michael Blake in the dugout during a game. (Courtesy: Blake family) Michael Blake in the dugout during a game. (Courtesy: Blake family)
The team wears new numbers and decals to honor Blake. (May 19, 2014/FOX Carolina) The team wears new numbers and decals to honor Blake. (May 19, 2014/FOX Carolina)
Michael Blake's family wears sweatbands and cheers on his team. (May 19, 2014/FOX Carolina) Michael Blake's family wears sweatbands and cheers on his team. (May 19, 2014/FOX Carolina)
The players wear Blake's number on their helmets. (May 19, 2014/FOX Carolina) The players wear Blake's number on their helmets. (May 19, 2014/FOX Carolina)
FOUNTAIN INN, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Little League playoffs mean even more for an Upstate team who lost one of their players during the season.

Fourth- and fifth-graders on the Fountain Inn Rec League baseball team watched as their teammate, 10-year-old Michael Blake, collapsed on the field at their practice. Blake died later that night.

After Monday night's playoff game, the undefeated Blue Rocks move on to the championship. They say that they're winning for their missing teammate.

It was nearly three weeks ago that Michael fell down in the practice area behind the field on which his team played. Since then, his family has sat on the bleachers, cheering on his team, thankful for their support.

The night after he died, coaches said that someone printed up decals with Michael's number, 6, for players to iron onto their shirts and hats. The team, and even Michael's family, sports sweatbands displaying "MB 6."

"That helped them feel like he's more here with them," said coach Russ Pearson.

Michael told his mom, Joan Blake, that he chose the number 6 based on the number of people in their family, with his parents, him and three sisters.

Joan Blake described her son as "lovable" and "full of joy." She said this was Michael's first season playing baseball, but thanks to teammates and coaches who were so good to him, she said that he just loved it.

"When he finally started hitting, it just all clicked for him. You could just see he was just walking with so much confidence. He was so happy. It was just beautiful," said Blake.

Even his teammates saw Michael's improvement.

"He got better every single game. He never fussed or anything. He was always a team player, friends with everybody," said Taylor Lawson.

The boys remember him shoving half a wad of Big League chew in his mouth, cheering everyone on, and that he never stopped working.

Jake Baynes described him as like a brother. He and his teammates said the tragedy has brought their team closer and made them play harder for Michael.

"He was the heart of the team, and we made that heart come back together after his death," said Baynes.

Pearson said they weren't sure when to get back on the field, but that "getting back to baseball has helped" the boys.

Mom, dad and Michael's three sisters said that the Blue Rocks team wins because they work so well together. The family keeps watching because they enjoy seeing the boys have fun.

Joan Blake wants to let the Blue Rocks know how much they mean to the Blake family, she said, "Because they were so good to Michael."

She said Michael was the happiest she'd ever seen him and that she's glad he got to play with the Blue Rocks.

"It would've been a million times harder without them saying, you know, we loved him too, and we're there for you," she said.

Greenville County Deputy Coroner Kent Dill said that they are still waiting on toxicology reports to know exactly how Michael died.

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