St. Augustine baseball star Kevin Eaise's 'full circle' journey

St. Augustine's Kevin Eaise takes batting practice before a scrimmage .

He would sit in the backseat of the car and see the baseball diamond, a swath of green beside the river and in the shadow of the hospital complex that was his destination.

From his doctors’ offices at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he could look down and see the manicured expanse of Meiklejohn Stadium, the University of Pennsylvania’s home field.

Kevin Eaise’s father, also named Kevin, figures it will mark a “full circle” journey when his son takes the mound in a Quakers uniform and looks up at the familiar medical buildings in the background.

An easy-going senior and star baseball player at St. Augustine Prep, Kevin Eaise acknowledges that such a switch in perspective will be “cool.”

Especially since this whole story – the discovery of the brain tumor, the surgery, the success on the baseball field, the formation of the family’s charitable foundation, the return to that same corner of the University City section of Philadelphia as an NCAA Division I recruit – began with a case of double vision.

People close to the Hermits’ slugger and pitching ace figure his measured, laid-back approach is intrinsic to his nature, standard operating procedure for the protective older brother of three sisters and the by-product of a life-altering medical condition that has shrunk the significance of those lit-up numbers on the scoreboard.

Camera icon H. Rumph Jr./For the Inquirer
Kevin Eaise of St. Augustine Prep was the starting pitcher in the Non-Public A state final last season.

“At the end of the day, he knows it’s just a baseball game,” St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said. “The thing that’s going to take him far, and not just in baseball, is that this is a kid where you can’t tell if he hit a game-winning, three-run home run or struck out three times.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Eaise doesn’t often strike out. He was an all-South Jersey selection as a junior, after batting .435 with four home runs and 35 RBIs and going 6-2 on the mound with a 2.56 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings.

“He’s our horse on the mound and our No. 4 hitter,” Bylone said of Eaise, who led St. Augustine to a 24-7 record and the Non-Public South A title in 2017.

With eight NCAA Division I recruits on the roster, the Hermits open this season as the No. 1 team in the Inquirer’s South Jersey Top 25.

The elder Eaise  said his 18-year-old son is an old soul with wisdom that belies his years.

“He’s just a typical teen-age kid, quiet, unassuming,” Eaise  said. “But he has a unique perspective on life because of what he’s been through.”

Camera icon Tom Gralish/Staff photographer
St. Augustine’s Kevin Eaise batted .427 last season.

In July 2010, the younger Eaise was a bright-eyed, athletic 10-year-old with the look of a future star playing for the Elmer Little League all-star team.

He thought something was wrong with his contact lens when he started to see two baseballs during pregame warm-ups.

“I played the whole game,” Eaise  said. “I thought it was my contacts. It came out of nowhere. No pain, no headaches, nothing.”

He told his father and his mother, Debbie. He went to his pediatrician, then to an ophthalmologist, then to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, his parents’ concerns increasing with each step.

“He was still under from the MRI at CHOP when the doctor came in and said they need to ‘prep’ him for brain surgery,” his father said. “It’s hard to really explain how devastating that was.”

Eaise had a tumor on his brain stem, known as a tectal glioma. The tumor was benign but inoperable because of its location.

He underwent surgery to relieve pressure and ease complications, such as the double vision.

“The next day, they said he could go home with no restrictions,” his father said. “We were like, ‘You’ve just drilled a five-inch hole in our son’s head and he’s going to be sent home the next day?’

“My wife was beside herself. I’ll never forget the surgeon [Phillip Storm] saying, ‘Mrs. Eaise, is there another way you want me to explain it to you?’ ”

Her son calls Storm, a world-renowned brain surgeon, “a big-time guy and a regular dude.”

“My surgeon told me, “If you’re going to have a brain tumor, this is the one to have,’” Eaise  said. “That’s the famous line.”

Because of the depth of the tumor, there was no danger that a blow to the head could cause additional damage.

“I was playing Wiffle ball with my friends the next day,” Eaise said.

But his mother, a veterinarian, drew the line when it came to contact sports.

“I always wanted to play football, but she wouldn’t let me,” Eaise  said. The surgery “was the last straw for that. So that’s the only thing I missed. No football. Plus, that one all-star season that I didn’t get to finish.”

Eaise  has suffered no complications from the surgery or the presence of the slow-growing tumor. He takes no medicine. Initially, he underwent an MRI every three months to check on his condition. Then every six months. Then every year. Now, he has the test every two years.

“I’m definitely lucky,” Eaise  said. “It’s in the brain stem, so if it was [malignant], there wouldn’t be anything they could do.”

Their son’s fortunate diagnosis, plus those frequent visits to the cancer ward at CHOP, inspired the Eaises to take action to help others. Within a year, they started the Eaise Family Foundation, which has raised more than $500,000 for brain-tumor research.

They hold an annual Rally for Research gala every year that draws more than 300 people, with all proceeds going to Children’s Hospital. This year’s event was held Feb. 9 at Lucien’s Ballroom in Berlin.

“You don’t leave there with a dry eye,” Bylone said. “This family has turned what happened to Kevin into a positive thing for others. They’ve turned the whole thing into a cause to help others.”

Eaise said the annual gala and foundation have become centerpieces of his family’s life.

“We get like 300 people there every year and it’s cool to know that many people care about not just me but my family and the cause,” he said “You try make a difference for those other kids. Every time you send a check, you hope they can find a cure for anything.

“You see all these professional guys always going back and giving back, and no matter what I do, I’m always going to try to help out in any way I can. Not just kids that are sick but anybody because everybody has something.”

Camera icon Tom Gralish/Staff photographer
St. Augustine’s Kevin Eaise was 6-2  last season with a 2.35 ERA.

Eaise  said he never gave much thought to attending Penn and playing baseball for the Quakers.

“I didn’t think I could get in,” he said.

He considered going south to play in warmer weather. But when the Quakers started to recruit him, he saw pieces of a larger picture click into place.

Bylone said it was only fitting that Eaise  play for Penn, in the shadow of Children’s Hospital.

“I’m sure that was a big part of it, all they’ve done for him, all he and his family have tried to give back,” Bylone said. “It makes perfect sense.”

The more he thought about it, the more Eaise  liked it. Great school, good baseball, close to Mom and Dad and his sisters: Maria, 16; Anna, 14; and Gabrielle, 11.

Plus, there was an additional bonus.

“It’s cool to know the doctors I had — they said they’ll come and watch my games,” Eaise  said.

 

 

Eaise Family Foundation

  • Raises money to support research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
  • Hosts an annual Rally for Research gala.
  • Has raised $50,000 to  $100,000 per year, with all proceeds benefiting brain tumor research at CHOP.
  • Visit rally4research.net to learn more, make a donation, or arrange to attend the eighth annual gala.