It was May of 1998, the last day of my junior year in high school, and I was excited.
The smell of baseball was in the air.  
While at home, getting ready for baseball practice, I received a phone call from a relative.  
I could tell in his voice that something was wrong when he said, “did you hear what happened?”  
I replied, “no, what’s wrong?”  
“Jacob Rice was killed.”  
I paused.  
I could not comprehend what my cousin had just said.
Jacob Rice was a grade below me. We had played pee-wee baseball together and also played side by side during my last year of American Legion Midgets baseball in 1997.  
Rice was the ultimate teammate.  
He was always smiling and rooting the players on.  He always made me laugh.  
When somebody made a mistake or was down on themselves he was the first one to show encouragement.
 At times, Jacob and I shared duties at third base during the 1997 season which ended with a district loss to Crete.  
Rice was a great ball player.  Not one time did I hear him criticize anyone.  
He was an all around good kid.
In 1998, I moved up to play for the American Legion Juniors.  
Back then, the 15 and 16 year old level was called Midgets and the 17 and 18 year olds were Juniors.  
The baseball team attended Rice’s funeral and, after that, we had a road game.  
It was the most quiet car ride I have ever been a part of.
When Rice passed away, the group of kids who were a year behind me in school, decided that the 1998 season would be dedicated to Rice, and those boys were on a mission to make it to state and keep Jacob’s name alive.
There was always one team that stood in the way.  
Beatrice.  
It was a rival, but not in a fun way. These teams did not like each other.  
Beatrice was the two-time and defending state champions and reached the district championship at Nebraska City.  
Nebraska City entered this contest with a 23-4 record.
Brandon Noerrlinger took the mound for the NC Midgets.  
Noerrlinger was 11-0 that season and faced his biggest challenge yet—beat Beatrice and go to state.  
The game was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Nebraska City’s Brent Johnson singled and catcher Shawn Hoy hit into a fielder’s choice.  
Kory White then delivered a base hit. With two runners on, Kevin Becker hit a ball that  drove in both runs  and Nebraska City took a 3-1 lead.
Beatrice had one more at bat.  
With two outs and two strikes, NC was a pitch away from going to state.  Hoy, the catcher, gave his pitcher the deuce sign (curveball) and Noerrlinger dropped it in perfectly for a strikeout as Nebraska City made it the state tournament, that year hosted by St. Paul.
What happened after the state tourney clinching win was touching.  
The players gathered around the Memorial Stone behind the third base dugout.  
On the stone is a picture of Jacob Rice.  
There was a moment of silence as teammates bowed their heads for a prayer.
Former teammate and baseball star, Brent Johnson said he remembers playing baseball with Jacob during Jaycee ball and Legion Midgets.  
“He was always a good teammate,” Johnson said.  
Johnson went on to say that Jacob was a good pitcher and hitter, and, when Rice played, he played hard.  
To honor Rice during that 1998 season, the players had put the initials “J.R.” on their hats.  
Johnson mentioned he was always in the outfield thinking of Rice and said, “we know he was there at the games playing with us.”  
Nebraska City went on to place third at state in 1998.
In 1999, NC came away with a second place finish at state. And, in 2000,  the team went to state again and finished third.  
Johnson said, if Rice would have been on those teams, he believes NC could have possibly won state because Rice would have provided extra pitching skills.
A very humbled Christine Rice (Jacob’s mother) said the credit goes to all the coaches and players that helped keep her son’s name alive.
“The coaches are the true heroes that prevailed and led the team to state that year and honored No. 6,” Chris Rice said.  “We as parents are just bleacher cheerleaders.”
I regret to this day that I wasn’t there to be part of this experience.  
We never know how much time we have on this earth.  
One minute you are warming up with a teammate on the ball field together and then the next thing you know you look over and he/she isn’t there.  
Please, if you get the chance, go over and pay your respects at that Memorial Stone behind third base dugout at Nebraska City’s Clemmy Holmes Field.
Cherish what you have with each other and be the ultimate teammate like Jacob Rice was.
1998 roster: Jesse Cutler (bat boy), Brent McAlexander, Nate Patton, Brandon Noerrlinger, Gabe Fox, Bobby Filler, Danny Carlstedt, Bobby Rhoads, Nic Neeman, Ty Shrader, Bryan Frields, Shawn Hoy, Brent Johnson, Scott Embrey, Kory White, Kevin Becker, and Kyle Hoback.
Coaches: Head Coach, Don Kasbohm, Assistant Coach, Jeff Frields and Keith White.