Shock. Numbness. Anguish. Disbelief. Confusion. Tell us this isn't true, tell us that this is a mistake. Tell us that Darryl Kile will be on the mound at Wrigley Field on Sunday night to stare in at home plate with those steely eyes and grim expression, just before he rocks and throws a swooping curveball that makes hitters curse the very existence of gravity.
Editors note:This is a reprint of an article that originally ran on June 23, 2002
Athletes have died in car wrecks and boating accidents and airplane crashes. They have died at the hands of violence. But a prime athlete, age 33, just doesn't go to sleep and fade into permanent darkness, failing to wake up in his Chicago hotel room. And especially if he's Kile, the toughest and most determined competitor among the Cardinals. Every pitcher on this team looked up to him as the big brother with the broad shoulders and patient persona. He offered the quiet wisdom of a pitching craftsman. He was able to handle their questions and problems and anything that they wanted to bring to him. He was there for his teammates, and that is why the Cardinals were so alarmed when he failed to show up at Wrigley Field on Saturday. Darryl Kile always answered the call, and when he didn't on Saturday, his teammates feared something was wrong . . . terribly wrong.
Kile died in his sleep, and that is about the only thing about this unspeakable tragedy that makes sense. It is the only way death could have sneaked up on him to take him away in the night, when he was sleeping and unknowing, and unable to fight back with the same type of grit and tenacity that intimidated hitters and inspired teammates.
Kile was a stand-up guy who never backed down, you see, so this was the only way death could conquer him so quickly. The autopsy report will tell us many things, but we are convinced of this much: Kile didn't have a chance to compete. Not this time.
Our hearts just thump and sag thinking about how it ended for DK. If a man is to die at age 33, he should at least be surrounded by the warmth of family and the glow of loved ones, who could hug and kiss and comfort him. And he should have the opportunity to reflect on his life and his deeds, and he should be able to say goodbye to his wife and children, and maybe impart some final advice that could help carry his kids through life. He should be told that he is loved. He shouldn't die away from home, in a sterile hotel room, surrounded by stock furniture and generic paintings. In the final moments, did Kile know? Was he able to think of his wife and their three small children and smile just before the fear took over? It's just too unbearable to contemplate.
The Cardinals have lost a leader. They've lost a friend. They've lost a touchstone in the clubhouse. And on the pragmatic side, they've lost a premier pitcher who could give them innings and victories and everything he had each time he palmed the baseball. They lost his devoted work ethic and his high standards which elevated this pitching staff. Kile was an old-school pitcher who refused to let the big pay days soften his will. But the team's loss is nothing compared with the void felt by his family.
This has been arguably the most tragic week in Cardinals history. The team, and Cardinal Nation, spent most of the week mourning the death of broadcaster Jack Buck. On Friday, Buck was laid to rest, and the healing process was under way. And now, a day later, Darryl Kile went to sleep and didn't rise. A double blow to the heart. A double box of tissues for our eyes. A double order of prayers. Double black armbands on the players' uniforms.
I will say this now: If the 2002 Cardinals can endure and prevail to win the division title, it will be one of the proudest accomplishments in franchise history. And they have the right man to lead them in manager Tony La Russa. He has a firm hand in crisis management. He led the Oakland A's to the World Series championship over San Francisco in 1989, after the Series was interrupted by an earthquake. And last season, La Russa had the Cardinals mentally prepared to resume play after the horrific events of Sept. 11.
Cardinals players undoubtedly are wondering how they'll get through this, how they'll walk on without their leader and friend. They should turn to his personal story for guidance. Kile's father died suddenly in 1993 at age 44. Kile, who had been a mediocre pitcher for Houston to that point, went on to a 15-win, All-Star season that included a no-hitter. In an interview that season, Kile discussed how he coped with his father's death:
"I don't think I'll ever get over it, because my father was my best friend, " Kile said. "But in order to be a man, you've got to separate your personal life from your work life. It may sound cold, but I've got work to do. I'll never forget my father, but I'm sure he'd want me to keep on working and try to do the best I can do."
That's what the Cardinals must do now: Take Kile's words to heart. Kile may be gone, but his teammates can still follow his lead.