Brooke Linden couldn’t help herself. She would throw a strike and expect to hear praise from the high-pitched voice of Peyton Riedel. She expected, as always, to hear “Great job!” or “You got this!”
On Monday afternoon, Riedel was with Linden and the Pine Creek Eagles softball team during their 15-0 win over Liberty. By the early hours of Tuesday morning, Riedel was dead, the victim of a car crash near Calhan.
For three seasons, Riedel worked as a Pine Creek assistant. She was aggressively upbeat and insisted everyone join her in smiling and expecting the best, no matter what.
“We grew up with Peyton,” Linden said. “She had this sweet little voice. It wasn’t very deep. It was a high-pitched voice, and just hearing that voice would always put you in a little better mood.”
On Friday afternoon, the Pine Creek team gathered to honor Peyton, their friend and coach, and to play Arapahoe High School. The Eagles jumped to a 3-0 lead, but fell 7-4 in front of a few hundred fans. Most wore purple, Peyton’s favorite color.
It was the kind of day when Peyton was needed. She would have talked about everything the Eagles had done right, about all the reasons they would win next time. She would have refused to tolerate frowns or doubts. On this cloudy day, she would have radiated sunshine.
“She always gave 100 percent of her heart,” said senior Leah Passafiume. “That really rubbed off on me. She was so energetic and positive every time that she came out here.
“Not hearing her voice, that’s strange, but we can still feel her with us. We feel her in each of our teammates.”
On Thursday evening, Peyton’s mother, Pam, surprised the Eagles at practice. They had written letters to the Riedel family, thanking them for Peyton, and purchased flowers to give to Pam. They didn’t know she would accept the letters and flowers in person.
Everyone on the team hugged Pam, who had tears in her eyes.
“We were able to thank her for her daughter and tell her the impact her 25- year-old daughter had on so many people,” Passafiume said.
Peyton enjoyed a special bond with senior Kennedy Johnson, who goes by Ken. Both were fascinated by Batman, that nocturnal creature who lives in comic books and movies. It was Peyton who suggested Ken use the revved-up theme music from the Batman 1960s TV series as her walk-up song.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ken heard the news. For several minutes, she refused to believe what she had been told. It wasn’t until Ken told her mother — until she heard herself saying the words — that she realized the news was true.
Peyton was gone.
“She was more than just a coach to me,” Ken said. “She was like an older sister.”
Peyton changed her life, Ken said. She wanted to embrace anger, but Peyton insisted she walk toward hope and happiness.
“Live on the bright side,” Peyton kept saying. She said those words so many times, and lived those words with such unyielding consistency, that she finally converted Ken.
“She always showed me the bright side of things and always made me smile and laugh even when I didn’t want to,” Ken said.
During Friday’s game, there were times Ken could hear Peyton’s voice and even see her, for just an instant, in the dugout.
“Spiritually,” Ken said, “she was still there.”
Ken is right. She really is.
In a way, in the best way, Peyton and her voice and her smile always will be there.