When Caden White made his decision last year to play baseball at Edmonds Community College near Seattle, the first person he thought of was his friend Olivia Johnson.

“She always told me you have what it takes to get to the next level,” said White, a senior catcher at Idaho Falls High. “She was definitely a big motivator for me. If she believes in me, then I can believe in myself … If she was still with us, she would have been the first person I would have told.”

Johnson, a softball and soccer player at Idaho Falls High, had just finished her junior year when she was killed in a car accident in June. The Idaho Falls community mourned the tragic loss of life with vigils and prayers. White, who had been friends with Johnson since the seventh grade, decided to take it a step farther.

Mourning her loss while trying to find a meaningful way to celebrate her memory, White had a special bat made with Love Like Liv on the handle. He scratches her number in the dirt for every game and points to the sky in her honor for every at-bat. White has Johnson’s number written on the bill of his cap. The gestures may seem immaterial to anyone who doesn’t know the context behind them, but to White, the tributes make all the difference.

This week as the Idaho Falls softball team honored Johnson during its senior day, and the Tiger baseball team prepared for the upcoming 4A District 6 tournament, White took time to talk about his friend.

“Olivia was an amazing human,” White said. “She always put others in front of herself.  It was never her first. She was a selfless person. She was amazing. The amount of love and care she had for everything and anybody was very special. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Johnson loved to ride and train horses. She was involved in church and studied nursing. During the holidays, she would often be at White’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas parties.

“I felt like she was a sister to me,” White said, noting the two also shared a bond through athletics.

“She was always there for me and supported me through baseball,” White said. “She always kept my confidence up when I was going through a rough patch. She was always there for me to talk me through it.”

On the afternoon of June 14, 2018, Johnson’s car collided with a road grader, according to Idaho State Police. She died later from her injuries.

White was at Melaleuca Field playing with his Double-A American Legion team, the Idaho Falls Bandits in their annual fundraising game against the Idaho Falls Chukars.

“During the middle of the game, family members were sad and out of it,” he said. “After the game I asked ‘What’s going on?’ and they said she got in a wreck and was on life support and wasn’t going to make it. It took me five or 10 minutes to process it. I don’t even remember much of that night other than the fact of them telling me what happened.”

White was devastated and felt helpless. Later in the week as the Bandits took the field, he decided he had to do something.

“I thought it over and how cool would it be if I hit a home run for her or did something special for her,” White said. “That’s the time I started pointing to the sky for her because I was trying to keep her memory alive for me and other people.”

White said he told teammates if he actually hit a home run, he’d probably have a hard time just getting around the bases.

“The second I saw it clear the fence I just got this feeling, ‘Wow it happened. It really happened,' and I broke down when everybody came out to say good job. I broke down.”

White said his home run was an emotional release he needed. He signed the home run ball and it is now in a case at Johnson’s parents’ house in Shelley.

“I definitely felt her with me that day,” he said. “For me to hit a home run the first at-bat after she passed, it just felt too special not to be true.”

White said he will have Love Like Liv embroidered on his graduation cap and will continue his personal tributes with his college team.

“So she can graduate with me,” he said.

Allan Steele is Sports Editor of the Post Register. Reach him at 208 542-6772 and follow on Twitter at asteele12000