With his right hand, Jared King fingers their initials in the dirt, makes a cross and points upward. With her eyes, Kelly King peeks over at an open courtside spot in the bleachers and simply envisions.
The pre-game warmup has ended for Jared. The National Anthem is playing for Kelly.
These are the cue times for their individual tributes to their parents. Big Brother, a first baseman for the University of Virginia, physically goes next to the right field line to dedicate. Little Sister, a point guard for Hidden Valley High School, mentally goes in the stands to remember.
The stadium has just welcomed two more fans. The gym, too.
“Now they have the best seats in the house,” Kelly said, “because they can watch us both.”
At 1 p.m., Friday, Virginia takes on Army to begin the NCAA Tournament. Jared King will be playing the 198th game of his UVa career. All of them have come since his father died. One-hundred eighty-four of them have come since his mother died.
Davenport Field will host 4,000-plus spectators. Kelly King will be three of them.
As siblings, they became close. Through athletics, they became winners. Through tragedy, they became each other’s everything.
“She’s all I have,” said Jared.
“He’s what keeps me going,” added Kelly.
In a subtle way, Jared King will always remember his first UVa baseball audition for what he did in the crowd as opposed to the 15-for-20 performance he had at the plate.
It was summer 2007 and King, a Radford area native, was playing in the annual Commonwealth Games in Salem. Cavalier associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin McMullan was in attendance as was Kelly because, well, she never missed much when it came to her brother’s athletic career.
“God bless her,” Jared said. “She went to all these baseball games, every single AAU basketball tournament every weekend. There were times when I knew she just hated it, but I love her for it.”
Kelly sat with her mother, Brenda, at Kiwanis Field. The July heat was overbearing to the point that Kelly passed out while Jared was warming up on the field.
“I had been talking to Coach Mac a little bit, and she’s passed out up in the stands,” Jared said. “I’m just like, ‘What’s going on?’”
Cue Big Brother to the rescue.
“Jared came running off the field to make me wake up,” Kelly said. “He got me some water and put some food in my system.”
At the time, the Kings were close to two years removed from the death of Danny King, a father and husband who lost a battle with lymphoma. Jared was still young, but his situation called for an early role change.
“He was not only going to have to be that brother figure, but also the father figure,” Kelly said. “We would still fight here and there, but our relationship, as far as that goes, that definitely became a lot stronger.”
In August 2008, a year after he impressed McMullan in that initial visit, Jared King was off to Charlottesville to start college. Kelly King, a to-be eighth grader, was happily adjusting to life in Pulaski County.
“I remember thinking,” Kelly said, “‘Oh, Jared’s not home. Now it’s just girl time all the time. It’s just going to be me and Mom.’ So I was kind of excited that he was going to be gone.”
It wasn’t long before those plans drastically changed.
“I found out about it really only after a couple weeks of getting here,” Jared said. “We were coming in after practice one day and the coaches were all in the locker room. They called me in.”
Brenda King had cervical cancer.
“It was kind of like, here we go again,” Kelly said. “We were kind of more prepared for what my mom had, so that just brought us closer together.”
For the next seven months, Jared would play the ultimate balancing act.
“He was at school, but he was also home a lot,” Kelly said. “So that was really comforting for him, for me, and for Mom, too. He had to take care of her and he was taking care of me at the same time — as well as his schoolwork and his baseball and his life, too.”
Brenda King’s battle ended on March 11, 2009.
At crucial points in their lives, two teenagers were left parent-less.
Surviving on their own
Jared King will graduate from UVa in August with a degree in kinesiology. Kelly King will graduate from Hidden Valley next week and will attend Concord University in Athens, W.Va., in the fall.
Four years after ultimate heartbreak, they’ve managed to hold it together — and then some. And they’ve done it over 100 miles apart. (Kelly lives with Debbie Hale, Brenda’s sister and Kelly’s legal guardian, in Cloverdale, Va.)
“It’s been difficult,” Jared said. “There’s a lot of times where it just might be a text message, it might be a phone call. I know, for a while, she was able to come up to a lot of the games and stuff. It’s one of those deals to where I don’t feel like I’m watching over her shoulder all the time.
“Just like I had to be the man of the house, she had to grow up quick, too. She knows what she’s doing. She can take care of herself, but, at the same time, she knows that I’m always here for her.”
Together, they’ve valued the tiny moments.
Like when Jared had a second inning RBI bloop single against Florida State on March 13, 2009, his first at-bat since his mother’s passing.
“I couldn’t be more proud because that was such a hard time for both of us,” Kelly said. “Stressing about how Jared’s playing is the last thing on my mind. It was really comforting for me at home.”
Or when Kelly got to share in Jared’s 2011 College World Series experience.
“That was probably the hardest part of Omaha just knowing that they weren’t there to watch it,” Kelly said. “Our family, we were just all raised in a big sports house. Sports was kind of the center of our house. I just thought it would have been so cool for them to watch him.
“They would be so proud of him for how far he’s come.”
Or when Jared, who went through shoulder surgery in 2010, aided Kelly through a torn ACL rehab in 2011-12.
“Talk about being the man of the house,” Kelly said. “He was always on my back about rehab and ‘do this’ and ‘ice this’ and ‘put heat on it now.’”
Or when Jared, this past February, stood by Kelly’s side on her Senior Night at Hidden Valley and then sat and watched her splash a 3-pointer on the game’s opening play.
“She had that knack of whenever I would show up, she would always end up playing a little bit better,” Jared said. “That was definitely great to be able to see.”
Jared, with two CWS appearances and a pair of ACC titles, is one of the winningest players in Virginia baseball history.
Kelly was a four-year varsity basketball player at Hidden Valley. Brenda King, a longtime respected high school coach in southwest Virginia, had just been hired as Hidden Valley’s coach when she got sick.
“When I come out of the locker room, everybody else’s mom is standing there and mine’s not,” Kelly said. “So that’s probably been the hardest part.”
To help cope, she made a habit of picturing her parents in attendance before tip-off. And then she would go out and play with her brother’s advice.
“Everything,” said Jared when asked about the parts of Kelly’s game he’s tried to improve. “Anything you can think of. With basketball, there’s so many possessions, you just can’t get too bent out of shape over one play.
“Just getting after it, just competing all the time. I think that’s the biggest thing for her.”
A brother. A parent. A coach.
Jared King’s efforts toward Kelly have never gone unnoticed.
“For, really, five years, he’s had to be a student, be a student-athlete here, and keep a watchful eye on her,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “That’s a lot to have on a college student’s plate. That just shows you the type of person he is.”
Added Scott Silverstein, a Virginia pitcher and King’s roommate of four years: “They’re like the best of friends. It’s kind of cool to see how they support each other.”
A last wish
On Aug. 19, 2012, Jared and Kelly King celebrated Kelly’s 18th birthday by getting tattoos. Jared has a lime and teal mixed ribbon on his right arm. Kelly has the same on her left foot.
Lime is for lymphoma. Teal is for cervical cancer.
Danny King’s final day — Sept. 27, 2005 — is inked below the ribbon. As is Brenda King’s final day.
The ribbon’s colors blend, forging the parents together and permanently connecting them to their children.
“Oh, what’s that on your foot?,” Kelly recalled people asking her. “I tell them the story of how me and Jared got to do it together.”
Which can lead to more tales about how they’ve survived these difficult years.
As Brenda King’s illness began to progress during Jared’s freshman year, McMullan received a text message from a certain player’s mother.
“Do me a favor,” McMullan said, remembering the text’s specifics words. “Make sure he graduates and make sure he gets to the College World Series.”
It was Brenda King.
Jared’s been to Omaha twice and he’ll have a diploma by the end of the summer.
From the sky he points to before every game, Jared is positive his mother has sent another message to his coaches.
Make sure he wins a national championship.
“To this point, I’ve accomplished everything that I could have possibly hoped for,” Jared said. “That would be an incredible ending.”
Kelly would be there to celebrate. She’d close her eyes to spot her parents there with her.
“Best seats in the house,” Jared said.