This week has been one of reflection for many people associated with the Cardinals – including us fans. The current team is struggling, and yet it seems so trivial in a way, as the mind wanders to teams gone by.
Specifically, the 2002 Cardinals were a team struck with far more adversity than the injury-riddled 2012 bunch.
Still mourning the loss of an all-time great Saint Louisan, Jack Buck, the unthinkable happens. Not just unthinkable, impossible. Such are the things in life that create the most sadness, the most disbelief. The things no one expects, the things that shouldn’t happen.
I remember vividly the day Darryl Kile didn’t wake up.
Having been laid off from my first “real job” out of college in the aftermath of 09/11, I had stumbled onto new gainful employment relatively quickly, luckily. It meant moving to a new town, truly away from the comfort of my parents’ roof for the first time, but the familiarity of it being my college home meant I already had relationships in the new town, my new home.
It all felt very impermanent to me at the time, whether it was having been to college there and not relating it as a “home” or just still being too young to feel like I was settling somewhere, I was just kind of going with the flow. Signing on to the new job and moving and my first day in training just happened – a whirlwind of sorts that left me once again earning a paycheck (much to the delight of my folks) and starting to learn what life was like on my own.
Three short weeks of training later, I was prepared to take a test on a Saturday morning, and was excited to not have to work that entire day (training was six days a week). Having the afternoon off meant I should be able to finish up the test and make it back home just in time to catch the Cards-Cubs matinee from Wrigley.
Naturally, the test and final morning of training ran long, and I found myself scrambling to get out of there. It was a few minutes beyond scheduled first pitch, but nothing had happened yet. Flipping on the radio, there seemed to be some confusion because no one was milling about in dugouts, or on the field. I made it home and turned the national Fox television broadcast on just in time to see Joe Girardi step to a microphone, flanked by his Cubs teammates.
“I thank you for your patience. We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family, 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.”
Tearfully, gracefully, and with dignity, Girardi delivered a message that in hindsight, had to be one of the toughest things he ever did as a ball player.
Something was clearly wrong, we didn’t know yet just what, and most importantly to me at the time – what was I going to do with the rest of my afternoon?
Soon the news started to trickle out of Chicago that Darryl Andrew Kile, at the much too young age of 33, had passed away in his sleep.
When I think back on that day now, it is clear to me how much my life has changed since then. I say that because, and it is a bit embarrassing to me to say it, I don’t recall Kile’s death affecting me as much then as it does now. I reacted, of course, and had feelings of loss (as much as a fan can, obviously), sympathy for his family, sympathy for his teammates, a true sense of shock and disbelief. But it didn’t stop me in my tracks the way I expect something similar might today.
Today I see my own young son, half the age that Kile’s son Kannon was when Darryl died, and I can’t imagine him growing up without his daddy. I can’t imagine not being around to teach him how to throw a curveball, or not teach him how to drive, or not see him become a man of his own. With any luck, a man similar to Darryl Kile – caring, loving, devoted to family and friends, and always striving to be the best. I know that may sound a little contrived, but isn’t that list of qualities something we all strive to be?
In 2002 marriage was the last thing on my mind. Now, it gets harder and harder for me to remember life before marriage. Again, the passage of time – and a little growing up – has made me grow to appreciate even more the pain and heartache one must feel losing a loved one so unexpectedly, so young, so suddenly. Flynn, Kile’s widow, suddenly received the responsibility of both mother and father. The responsibility of always making sure three young children remember their father, know the man he was, and the love that they all shared.
Coincidentally, I set out three months ago to change some things in my life. I wanted to be healthier. I wanted to be certain that I was doing everything in my power to be around for my little guy, for my wife, for all those that I love and that love me. I started exercising six days a week. I changed my eating habits. I try not to let stress get the best of me. I’ve lost twenty-six pounds and have more energy every day than I can remember during my adult life. I feel really good about all of that, yet I’m reminded that Darryl Kile was a professional athlete, and conditioned as such. All the want in the world to be around for his family and friends, all of the healthy choices and exercise, they weren’t enough for Darryl to still be here. Life is fragile. Life is to be treasured. Many of DK’s teammates and friends have echoed that lesson this week.
As I reflect on Kile’s passing and all that has happened to me personally since then, growing up into the person that I am now and building a family with people I love very dearly, I think about how Darryl Kile is remembered today.
By all accounts, Darryl Kile was an amazing teammate, a good husband, an incredible father. How lucky would any of us be to have someone else describe each of us in that manner?
While I may have been too young to really reflect on Kile’s passing at the time, ten years have afforded me some perspective and some growth. With that, it’s clear to see the impact Darryl Kile’s life and death have had on me – and it’s a simple question.
What will be the legacy you leave behind?
Darryl’s is one we’re still awed by and talking about today. That’s something to admire and aspire to.
Rest in peace, Darryl.