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News / Sports / Clark County Sports

Baseball, faith anchor Ridgefield’s Kevin Miser amid family tragedies

Catcher for nationally ranked small college keeps sharp in Wild West League

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: July 29, 2020, 4:35pm
6 Photos
Kevin Miser waits for a pitch during a Gresham GreyWolves games in the Wild Wild West League on Friday, July 24, 2020 in Aurora, Ore.
Kevin Miser waits for a pitch during a Gresham GreyWolves games in the Wild Wild West League on Friday, July 24, 2020 in Aurora, Ore. (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Two summers ago, Kevin Miser just wanted to go home for a night.

Just a few hours later, his life would be turned upside down — again.

“I was playing for the Gresham GreyWolves that summer,” Miser said, referring to the independent summer baseball team. “I had an apartment in Gresham because I was attending Mt. Hood Community College at the time. But that night after our game, I just wanted to go home, sleep in my own bed. I don’t even think my family knew I had come home that night.

“Then the next morning, I heard all this commotion, and everyone panicking in the house. I go out and find my dad’s having a heart attack.”

Walter Miser would pass away a couple of hours later at the age of 57. It came two years after Kevin’s brother, Vincent, died from injuries sustained in a car accident a few months earlier.

“It was the saddest day of my life,” Kevin Miser said. “My whole world came crumbling down.”

But two years after that sad morning, Miser, a 2017 graduate of Ridgefield High School, is pushing ahead with life, with the support of his family, his friends, his faith, and an undying passion to keep playing baseball.

“Kevin is one of those guys that everything about him impresses you,” said Nick Allen, Miser’s coach at Ridgefield High School. “He lost his brother (his junior year), and he comes back and is just a dude for us that entire spring. Then he’s at college and his dad has a massive heart attack and dies. … And the kid, he just keeps going.”

Miser just completed his junior year at Vanguard University, a small Christian college in Costa Mesa, Calif., where he played catcher for the No. 14-ranked team in the nation for NAIA baseball.

“I have learned so much from this life experience, and I noticed the most important thing for people to understand is that brokenness is real and it is a spiritual thing,” Miser said. “As I stand here with my mother and three brothers, I am motivated daily to make my family proud of me. I strive to be great every day because what I’ve been through has made me a better and stronger person.”

Roots in Stockton

Kevin Miser grew up in a rough section of Stockton, Calif. But in 2011, Walter and Heather Miser decided to move the family to the pastoral calm of Ridgefield, seeking a fresh start for their five sons, Vincent, Michael, Justin, Jason and Kevin.

“As a kid, I never realized how bad it was in Stockton until we moved,” Miser said. “We’d go back to visit family and then I’d see. I can remember as a kid hearing gunshots in my neighbor and thinking that’s normal. But it’s not.”

The adjustment to the quiet, rural setting of Ridgefield was not easy for Miser, but baseball helped.

He played on Ridgefield’s JV team as a freshman before establishing himself as a varsity player his sophomore year.

At the start of Kevin’s junior year at Ridgefield, his brother Vincent was critically injured in a car crash in Camas in the early morning of Sept. 27, 2015. While Vincent remained intensive care for the next four months, Kevin turned to sports to help him cope.

“I was playing football at the time, and I used football as a distraction from what was happening to my brother,” Kevin said. “I really thought that he was going to make it. But then he passed away in February, right before baseball. So I just threw myself into baseball, training harder and harder.”

In April of 2016, the family held a memorial service for Vincent in Stockton to coincide with what would have been his 25th birthday. Kevin left for the weekend with his family, but his return flight home was delayed, causing him to arrive to school late in the day on Monday.

“We had a game against R.A. Long that day, and Kevin wanted to play,” Allen recalled. “We end up going 11 innings, and the kid ended up having the RBI double to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, then the game-winning RBI to walk it off in the 11th — a day after his brother’s funeral. It was crazy.”

Miser was an all-league catcher for the Spudders that year. The following year, he was an all-state third baseman and was selected as the offensive MVP in the all-state series in Yakima.

Off to college

Miser moved next to Mt. Hood Community College, where he initially struggled on the baseball field with the Saints while also battling depression.

“It was a transition for me,” he said. “I lived near campus. And even though it wasn’t far from home, it was still a move away from home. I felt like I was on my own. That was the real heart of depression that I went through. …

“But my parents have supported me and my passions from Day 1. Without them, this journey would be hard to continue.”

The journey became more challenging when his father died suddenly in the summer of 2018, after his freshman year at Mt. Hood.

“My dad has always been my No. 1 fan in baseball,” Miser said. “If I ever needed something for baseball, you’d best believe he’d go out and get it for me. He was always at my games supporting me.”

It would easy to understand, after enduring so much, if Miser decided to quit baseball. But he said that thought never entered his mind, and his faith played a big role in that.

“At the same time, I also found my love for Jesus,” Miser said. “And that really helped me too. It was like I was taking the field with Jesus. Without Him, it would be hard to play this game.”

His teammates at Mt. Hood also helped him through those dark days.

“I can tell you those guys at Mt Hood, they were like my brothers,” Miser said. “They helped me through so much. I can say that my sophomore year, every single one of those guys was with me. If I ever get married, any of those guys could be my best man.”

Brighter days

One of those Mt. Hood brothers helped Miser find his way to Vanguard.

When Vanguard coach Robert Pegg was looking at Miser’s Mt. Hood teammate Matthew Land, Land told Pegg about Miser.

“So we saw video of Kevin play at Mt. Hood, liked what we saw and reached out to him,” Pegg said. “I think one of things that attracted him to Vanguard is we’re a Christian university, and he was at a point where he really wanted to explore his faith to a deeper level.”

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Vanguard, and the chance to play in Southern California, really enticed Miser. But he was also conflicted, not wanting to leave his mom so soon after his father’s death.

“But at the end of the day, my mom talked to me and she said ‘This is a really important time in your life, so you’ve just got to do what’s best for you,’ ” Miser said.

Heather Miser’s instruction to her youngest son was no surprise to Allen.

“That’s just who she is,” Allen said. “That is a tough woman. That is a strong woman, with what she’s had to deal with. Other than my own family, I don’t know if I’ve come across a family that is tighter than they are. They support each other and, in particular, Kevin. He’s lost so much, but he still has so much behind him. It’s powerful.”

Last spring at Vanguard, Miser started 12 games, mostly at catcher, for the Lions. He batted .343 as Vanguard posted a 21-6 record before the season was shut down by the coronavirus outbreak in March.

“Kevin has been a great addition to our program,” Pegg said. “He’s a scrappy competitor, a blue-collar guy. That’s what we like. He likes to joke around and have fun. But when he’s on the field, he’s going to work hard and compete to the last out.”

‘Blessed’ amid heartbreak

Miser returned to playing with the GreyWolves this summer, this time in the newly formed Wild Wild West League. His stay was brief as left this week for California to prepare for his senior year at Vanguard, where he’s majoring in communications.

“My plan is to get my degree,” Miser said. “That would make me the first generation in my family to get a college degree. My dad told me he always wanted me to finish college, so that’s my focus.”

After four months at home, Miser is looking forward to getting back to the Vanguard campus, which is located five minutes from the Pacific Ocean.

“Sometimes, between classes, I’ll just go to the beach to, like, meditate,” he said. “I just go there to pray or to reflect on everything that’s happened to me. It’s a beautiful view, and it makes me feel how blessed I am.”

Blessed, after going through a gauntlet of tragedy and heartbreak.

“That’s just Kevin,” Allen said. “He’s just a special kid. Nothing will stop him. … I have complete respect for him. With what he had to go through and still be playing baseball, it’s pretty cool to see.”