PREP BASEBALL: Cruce brothers overcome tragedy on the diamond

Hanceville’s Kainen Cruce pitches against Holly Pond on March 16, the last day of the 2020 season. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Sports are often used as a way to escape the stresses of everyday life. We are learning to love sports now more than ever as the spread of coronavirus continues to force cancellations or postponements of seemingly every event, sports or otherwise, around the globe. However, there are some people who already knew the value of sports and the relief they can provide during tough times. Hanceville’s Kainen and Gaiven Cruce are two brothers that have learned to appreciate that as much as anyone. After their mother, Brandy, was killed in a car accident nine years ago when the boys were 11 and nine years old respectively, Gaiven and Kainen were dealt a difficult hand early in their lives. With their father spending time in and out of prison, the brothers have spent most of the time living with their grandparents, but one part of their lives remained the same, baseball.

The Cruce brothers have been playing ball since they could pick up a bat but in all the years that Kainen has spent on the field, his favorite was the one year he and Gaiven played together at Hanceville High School.

“I’ve got pictures of us from a long time ago and we both started with playing tee-ball. So, we’ve always been playing baseball,” Kainen said. “My freshman year playing at Hanceville he was a senior, so I only got to play one year with him, but I was able to start and pitch that year so that was nice. I would say my freshman year was probably the most fun year I had playing because I got to play with him.”

Cruce has always had the most fun playing when he’s on the mound. He got off to a hot start at the plate this year too but controlling the game and facing down batters is what he loves most.

“I’ve always pitched, pitching is my favorite thing. Being on the mound is just a totally different atmosphere,” Kainen said. “You’re controlling the game and that’s the part I love about baseball. I had my highest batting average this year. The first few games I was hitting just about 1.000 each game but after a little bit we were playing Sipsey Valley and some harder teams and my batting average dropped down a little bit but I was hitting around .360 when the season ended.”

The car accident rocked Kainen and his family nine years ago, but he and his brother had a pair of grandparents there ready to take them in. As fate would have it, their new home only fueled the brothers’ passion for baseball while also providing a supportive place for them to continue growing up.

“After the car accident it was definitely a shock to our whole family and then of course my Dad got into some trouble and went to prison for a little while and we lived with my grandparents. My Grandpa (John Hughes) is probably the most supportive person in the world. He helps me with everything, anything I need he gets it for me, and he’s the only one in my family that’s left-handed and I’m left-handed so he’s just helped me so much with baseball,” Kainen said. “He’s always been my number one supporter at all my games so that’s been nice. We’ve been living here for about seven years now. My Dad got into some trouble about eight months after my Mom passed away and me and my brother have been living here. I enjoy it here; this is my home. My Maw Maw Bonnye (Hughes) is my guardian so they do everything for me.”

Baseball has been part of Kainen’s life almost as long as he can remember. His family is rooted in local sports as well, but it was his brother Gaiven that really made him love the game. Kainen has always looked up to his brother as a player and continues to do so today as they move into new stages of life.

“My Paw Paw, Jimmy Cruce, is my Dad’s Dad and he was a really good coach in Cullman, but my number one push was my brother honestly. I probably wouldn’t have played baseball if it wasn’t for him. I still look up to him. He’s probably doing the best of anyone in our family right now. He has a girlfriend and a good job and I’m trying to follow in his footsteps. He did great in school and has everything I want so I’ve always looked up to him as my big brother.”

Recruiting has slowed down for athletes all over the country with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak but Kainen and some of his teammates have still been able to catch the eye of a few college coaches. Cruce put together an impressive start to the abbreviated season, striking out 30 batters in his 27 innings of work and batting over .350 at the plate. Hopefully, Kainen and many other local athletes in his situation get the opportunity to play at the next level but even if he doesn’t, the adversity he’s overcome and the support from those close to him have prepared him for any challenges he’ll face after high school.

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