When I think of John Francis “Jack” Buck (August 21, 1924 – June 18, 2002) and Darryl Andrew Kile (December 2, 1968 – June 22, 2002), words fail me. My brain works at creating spontaneous thoughts, but the signals that tell the rest of my body how to operate fail after the one that first opens my jaw. Think of it as a pregnant guffaw without audio. For those of you who had the pleasure of listening to Jack Buck and watching Kile pitch, I send to you my deepest sympathies for I know well the sense of loss. However, this is for a different audience. This is for those of you who were either too young to understand or unaware of the consequences of crossing that terrible line that separates the living from the ones previously gifted with that which makes us alive.
I know not who invented “Cardinal Nation”, but I do know that if it possible for an entire nation to collectively have one grandfather, then Jack Buck was that man. Red Schoendienst might be the great uncle, Whitey Herzog might be the beloved uncle, and Tony La Russa the eldest of the cousins, but Jack was definitely the patriarch of patriarchs. Before the internet, MLB.tv, and even satellite dishes, there was my grandparent’s sun porch. That sun porch had an old tv and an even older radio, and the sounds of Jack Buck’s voice emanating throughout the house was the highlight of nearly every summer day. From basically the time I can first recall a single memory until he passed, the part of me dedicated to baseball has Buck as the centerpiece. If there truly exists a status beyond “legendary” that stops just short of “mythical”, then Jack Buck resides in that place for me. To those of you who remember little of Jack Buck, I give to you the poem Jack Buck read after 9/11.
His failing health notwithstanding, Jack showed the kind of scrap and determination to perform his job that endears so many ballplayers to us today. He created a moment so poignant that millions of us Americans at home and abroad were able to distinguish between the mourning, anger, and fear that 9/11 trigger and the hope, universal love, and will to move forward that has defined this great nation for hundreds of years. Jack turned our attention back to America’s pastime while embracing the fallen and making their abruptly shortened lives a part of the game forever. Ladies and gentlemen, the great Jack Buck:
While I can happily say that I met Jack Buck once, I cannot say the same for Darryl Kile. Maybe that is why the words Joe Girardi used on Fox after the game between the Cardinals and Cubs was canceled still resonate.
“I thank you for your patience. We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family, that the commissioner has canceled the game today. Please be respectful. You will find out eventually what has happened, and I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinals’ family.” -Joe Girardi (June 22, 2002)
At that time, I had been a father for just slightly more than a year. Darryl Kile left behind a wife and 3 children. I couldn’t begin to fathom what life would be like for my wife and son in a similar situation. I was utterly dumbfounded and still find myself that way all these years later. The fragility of life left such a deep and lasting impression that I vowed to dedicate more time to what I termed “going concerns”, because I still could not come to grips with my own mortality. For many years, Girardi’s request for prayers stuck with me and would pop into my mind uninvited. Thinking about those words as I write this now, I cannot say that I am fully prepared to cross the threshold yet, but I have done much to put my affairs in order. I hope all of you take pause to consider how life will go on for your loved ones in the event tragedy strikes you. The emotional shock reverberates for many generations after someone passes. Let Kile’s story be a constant reminder to seize each day while you live and love to the fullest.
Happy Father’s Day to all. May it be just one of many.