By Tabatha Bender
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Having a child and getting engaged can bring about many new experiences in anyone’s life. For Kansas junior Ka’iana Eldredge, these new undertakings go along with the pressures of being a Division I athlete at one of the most stressful positions on the diamond – catcher.
Eldredge, who switched from infielder to catcher during the offseason, has relied heavily on support from his family to take on these new challenges.
That family backing has recently been strengthened, as the junior from Honolulu, Hawaii proposed to his long-time girlfriend, Shelby Warren, in March. The couple, who has been dating for several years, is the proud parents of two-year-old son, Ka’iana Jakobi (K.J.).
“I guess it’s a little different,” said Eldredge, who is hoping to set a date for the wedding with his fiancé later this spring. “It’s a change from having the boyfriend and girlfriend titles. It’s definitely a life-changing moment, though. I’m excited. I think it’s a good thing. I’ve been with Shelby for a long time and I felt like this was the right step to take.”
While the exertions of raising a child while balancing school and athletics are already great, there is an added wrinkle for Eldredge. Warren and K.J. live in Cedar City, Utah while she finishes school at Southern Utah University. With the physical distance between them, it has become crucial to communicate with each other regularly in order to keep this family in tact.
“Having a family has lead to some big adjustments I’ve had to make over the last couple of years,” Eldredge said. “And I think the biggest thing with my family is communication. We have always been good at communicating with each other and we have to be in our current situation.”
Managing his busy life doesn’t always come easy for Eldredge. This season, on the baseball diamond, he has focused on improving himself behind the plate. It’s a familiar position for Eldredge, who also caught in high school, but one that presents great challenges.
“It’s been a challenge to stay mentally focused (on baseball) through the whole process of having a family,” Eldredge said. “But I feel really comfortable with where I am, as well as with where everyone else is at this point in the season. I feel good about how everything is balanced. I’m excited with the way I’ve progressed throughout the season so far.”
Even though he resides away from his family right now with Shelby and K.J. in Utah and his parents and siblings living in Hawaii; Eldredge still has an influential support system that helps manage everything going on in his busy life.
“I always try to be there when I can and I try to take our son to see Kai as much as possible,” Warren said. “We are both really big on family. Ka’iana and I try to show support for each other as much as possible.”
Eldredge’s bride-to-be assists him in focusing on baseball by doing everything she can to help raise their son and make sure that he is taken care of.
“I’m just trying to finish up school,” Warren said. “I take online classes because I work full-time as well. I’m done in April, so I’m planning on being back out there (in Lawrence) in the beginning of May. I’m really excited and I’m glad that we can be one big happy family.”
Family has always been an important part of Eldredge’s life. He grew up as the oldest of five children, and even though his siblings and parents don’t live close, he still tries to keep in contact with them almost daily.
As a junior, Eldredge has had time to acclimate himself to the lifestyle of a collegiate student-athlete. Being established at KU has helped him manage all of his responsibilities. Ka’iana’s father, Dave Eldredge, said that his son’s life experiences have helped him grow over the past few years.
“I notice it in the conversations we have,” Eldredge said. “I can tell that he has matured. His first year playing baseball he did well, and last year he struggled a little. This year he has his head on straight and has developed into a better player. He has made progress and this is a big year for him. He has a lot of opportunities coming his way.”
One of the opportunities thrown at Eldredge this season has been his change in position on the baseball diamond. In his first two years at KU, the junior played infield but has shifted to catcher this season.
Through the first half of the season, he has raised his batting average by nearly 50 points and thrown out 8-of-18 would-be base stealers. He was also one of 48 Division I catchers named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List in March. The award goes to the top catcher in college baseball each year.
Despite what is happening on the baseball field, good or bad, Eldredge understands that there is more to his life than just baseball. Being a Division I athlete as well as a parent gives Eldredge the opportunity to enjoy the vast different aspects of life.
“I have a family of my own now,” Eldredge said. “It’s been a great blessing and day-by-day it becomes more important to me. It becomes something that I cherish more. Having the best of both worlds by being a collegiate athlete at a big-time school and having a family is really awesome.”
Being a student-athlete and family man at the same time may be difficult, but Kansas’ Ka’iana Eldredge has his own team made up of a supportive family, including a future wife, that helps him balance all the different titles he sports: student, athlete, son, father and fiancé.