Death and life at the ballpark

After the stunning loss of Darryl Kile, the Cardinals played again, and lost. That's life. And that's baseball.

Topics: Baseball,

For most of the past week, St. Louis was in a kind of dewy reverie over the death of Jack Buck, the Hall of Fame Cardinals’ announcer who died after a long illness Tuesday night. The city was sad, but it was a nice, wistful kind of sadness. People consoled themselves and each other with stories of Buck’s legendary humility and generosity, with memories of his great calls, especially on Ozzie Smith’s famous playoff home run in 1985, with the comforting thought that Buck, the old friend, the father figure, had been so sick for so long that his death had come as a relief.

Saturday came a body blow, a shot that still has this baseball town staggering. Darryl Kile, a 33-year-old starting pitcher, was found dead in his hotel room before the Cardinals’ game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. This was not a death that brought to mind warm memories of weekend afternoons in the backyard with Dad. This was a death that brought to mind thoughts of death. Horrible thoughts of a wife happily visiting family in California one day, thrown into a world of pain the next. Aching thoughts of an infant son who won’t remember his father, 5-year-old twins who’ll never really get to know him.

Thirty-three. That’s six years younger than me, two years older than that guy on the next barstool, same age as you over there. Thirty-three years old and healthy as a horse, a star athlete. Can you believe it? We spent the weekend asking each other that when we weren’t telling each other this: I can’t believe it. An autopsy Sunday determined that Kile had severely blocked arteries.

Saturday’s game was postponed. There was some talk of postponing Sunday’s as well, but the Cards voted unanimously to play the nationally televised contest, which Kile had been scheduled to start. Now the stage was set for a dramatic, tear-filled victory reminiscent of the New York Yankees’ rousing comeback win in front of a national TV audience on the night of star catcher Thurman Munson’s funeral in 1979.

But that’s not how it went down. Jason Simontacchi, St. Louis’ surprising rookie right-hander, had his first bad outing in the big leagues, Kerry Wood handcuffed the Cardinals for eight innings and the Cubs won easily, 8-3. The Cardinals, many of whom fought back tears during a pre-game moment of silence, had every right to mail in the game, especially after they fell behind 8-0 in the middle innings. That they didn’t — all three of their runs came in the eighth and ninth, and they nearly brought the tying run to the plate — is a credit to them.

Baseball isn’t like the movies. Baseball is like life. Sometimes the music doesn’t swell. Sometimes, you just have a really bad weekend. Sometimes one of the guys on your team dies, and you set your jaw and pull your cap down tight and dedicate the game to him, and then you go out there and get raked. Baseball wouldn’t be any good if it weren’t like that sometimes, because then it wouldn’t be like life.

I was with a couple of baseball nuts when I heard about Kile’s death. They are cousins of mine, 4 and 5 years old. They, their dads and I were at the empty Busch Stadium, buying them little Albert Pujols and J.D. Drew T-shirts in the gift shop. The cashier told us the news when we wondered why the game, scheduled to start in Chicago a few minutes earlier, wasn’t on yet.

You Might Also Like

We walked outside and spent a few minutes looking at the statues on the stadium grounds. I tried to explain to the kids who each player was — Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock. They clambered onto the statues for photos. “Did he die?” they asked about each, before it was explained that you don’t have to die to get a statue. Not in St. Louis anyway. Not if you were a great baseball player.

Darryl Kile wasn’t on the level of the players who have statues outside Busch Stadium, but he was a good pitcher, a very good one at his best. A curveball artist, he won 20 games in 2000, his first in St. Louis after two rough years in breaking-ball-abusing Colorado that followed seven years in Houston, some effective, some not. He was a three-time All-Star, the author of a no-hitter in 1993. He was 16-11 last year with a 3.09 earned-run average, underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason, and, aside from two shaky outings on the last road trip, had pitched well of late after a rocky start this year. He was 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA.

He wasn’t as well-known as some more colorful contemporaries who may not have been his equal, but his teammates adored him as a leader, a fierce competitor and, away from the media to whom he always showed a bland front, a clubhouse prankster. In his last game, Tuesday night, the night Jack Buck died, Kile pitched into the eighth inning, allowing just one run and beating the Anaheim Angels, a win that moved the Cardinals into first place.

My cousins are straddling the age I was the first time I was confronted with death, when my grandfather passed away. I didn’t really get it at the time, didn’t know quite what to do with the information. I suppose I still don’t. I don’t think they quite got what the adults were talking about Saturday, nor should they. There’s plenty of time for them to learn what we grownups know about death and loss, plenty of time for them to experience the different kinds of sadness that St. Louisans have felt this week, the bittersweet kind that’s almost a strange kind of pleasure to indulge in from time to time and the punch-in-the-gut kind that, this time, has replaced it.

And there’s plenty of time for them to come to appreciate baseball on more levels than they do now. Because baseball isn’t just strikeouts and home runs and great throws and the heroes whose names are on the backs of your new shirts, though it’s certainly those things. It’s also a little bit like life. And one thing about life is that it goes on, so you’d better be ready to go on with it. On Monday, the Cardinals will likely call up a pitcher from their Memphis farm team. On Tuesday, they’ll play the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium.

They are, after all, still in first place, where Darryl Kile put them the last time we saw him.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>