Hesston College baseball team mourns death of teammate

Published: Jun. 5, 2016 at 10:39 PM CDT
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The Hesston College baseball team is remembering one of its players. 19-year-old Justin Velazquez was playing in a game in his native Puerto Rico Saturday, when he died.

It was his 19th birthday.

Velazquez was going to Hesston College on a baseball scholarship. Hesston College's head baseball coach, Kyle Howell, recruited him from Puerto Rico. Howell said Velazquez graduated freshman year and had been home for 10 days when he passed away.

" I know it happened during the course of a game, it was in between innings and he was on the field," Howell said. "I believe he collapsed."

Howell says Velazquez loved the game.

"He loved it. Really, really, really just played the game hard. He loved being on the field," Howell said.

"It's a really difficult thing to wrap your mind around. Kid at such a young age doing what he loved to do, and passing away in that regard," he said.

Teammates have written "R.I.P" with Velazquez's initials on their gloves and hats, to honor him.

"It was like we were brothers the first day we met each other," said teammate Andrew Barry. "He gave everything he had. He had max effort on the field. And if he wasn't playing that game he was always cheering on his team mates, he'd tell me to relax. He was the best teammate you could ever ask for," Barry said.

Velazquez's baseball family remembers him.

"He was laughing all the time. All through the first week, he hardly spoke any English and he'd always make these weird dolphin noises that just cracked everybody up and we loved it," Barry said.

"It's a loss for the college and anyone who knew him. He was an energetic kid and and infectious personality," Howell said.

Barry says several players who just graduated from the two-year school, will try to get Velazquez's number, #7, at their next schools.

"We're trying to keep our heads up but it's tough. He was an awesome person to know on and off the field. He was a great player but an even better man. I love him and going to miss him," Barry said.

The funeral service for Velazquez will be in Puerto Rico, but the team is working on a way to get together and remember him locally.