Darryl Kile would be 48 years old today.
That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?
It’s been more than 14 years already since the St. Louis Cardinals staff ace died in his Chicago hotel room, his body discovered tucked in bed by team officials after he didn’t show up at Wrigley Field for his scheduled start against the Cubs.
My wife was really, really pregnant with my oldest daughter that day and had dispatched me to the Belleville Shop ’n Save to address one of her cravings. That’s where I bumped into my mom, who tearfully delivered me the tragic news, which Mike Shannon confirmed later on the radio.
Kile was a tall, hard-throwing right-hander drafted in the 30th round of the 1987 draft by the Houston Astros.
He showed signs of brilliance in his seven years with Houston, winning 19 games with a 2.57 earned run average in 1997. But he led the National League in losses as a member of the Colorado Rockies in 1998, and in earned runs allowed in 1999.
His career took off in 2000, however, when he joined Tony LaRussa’s St. Louis Cardinals and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Kile won 36 games over the next two seasons, placed fifth in the Cy Young voting and started an All-Star Game, helping to kick-start a sustained run of success in which the Cardinals reached the postseason 12 of the next 16 seasons.
But the Cardinals and the entire baseball world were shocked and saddened by what happened June 18, 2002. At 2:37 p.m., Cubs catcher Joe Girardi stepped to a microphone near home plate and announced that the day’s game would not be played.
“I thank you for your patience,” he told the Saturday afternoon crowd, his voice cracking. “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 Cardinals family.”
Kile was just 33 years old.
Fans rallied outside old Busch Stadium in wake of the tragic news and erected a makeshift memorial of caps, posters, photographs, flowers and balloons. Both the Cardinals and Astros memorialized Kile with a display of his initials and No. 57 in their bullpens and with a patch on their sleeves.
The bullpen memorial followed the team when it moved, in 2006, to the new Busch Stadium, where it remains to this day.
The Cardinals also established a Darryl Kile Award, which is voted on by the players and presented annually to recognize a teammate who best exemplifies Kile’s example as a “good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man.”
Mike Matheny, the current Cardinals manager and Kile’s catcher, was the first recipient. The Astros give a similar award at the conclusion of each season.
That postponed game with the Cubs was finally played on Aug. 31. Jason Simontacchi started the game in place of Kile and clearly fought emotion as he worked. The Cardinals lost the game, 10-4.
Still, St. Louis, just eight games above .500 at the time of Kile’s death, rallied around his memory to 97 victories and a first-place finish. When the Cardinals clinched the Central Division championship, Albert Pujols carried Kile’s jersey onto the field to join his teammates for the celebration.
For the record, the last game Kile pitched was a good one, a 7-2 interleague win at Busch over the Los Angeles Angels. In seven-and-two-thirds innings, Kile allowed one run on six scattered hits while striking out five. He also helped himself out at the plate with a base hit in the second and a sacrifice bunt in the third.
Later that day, the voice of the Cardinals, Jack Buck, died.
One of the enduring images of Kile’s memorial service is that of his graceful wife, Flynn, comforting the couple’s twin son and daughter, who were 5 years old at the time. They also had a 10-month-old son.
Flynn Kile has since remarried, and the twins, now 19, are both outstanding volleyball players. Sierra is a business major on the beach volleyball team at Texas Christian University. Kannon, 6-foot-5, like his father, plays at Concordia University in Irvine, California.
The baby, Ryker Kile, is a sophomore at Santa Fe Christian High School in Solana Beach, Calif., where he plays on the junior varsity baseball team.
All have returned to St. Louis a few times to visit friends and wave to the Busch Stadium crowd. In 2005, the family pulled down the No. 57, counting down the days to the last regular season game at Busch II.
But according to the Cardinals, the family no longer comments on that horrible summer of 2002. In explaining why to the San Diego Times-Union last year, Flynn Kile said simply “Life is too short.”
That it is.