This post appeared as a column in the Belleville News-Democrat June 13, 2012:
It's difficult to comprehend that it has been 10 years since St. Louis Cardinals star pitcher Darryl Kile died at 33 years old in a Chicago hotel room.
The loss would be difficult for Redbirds fans to swallow for many reasons. Kile was a great player and the ultimate teammate. But the thing I can never get out of my head was watching the father of three young children play with his kids on the field before the Cardinals' game on Fathers Day, June 16, 2002.
It was as ideal a scene as you could possible imagine. A guy who had life by the tail - playing in the major leagues, seemingly not a care in the world as he played with his three beautiful children, oblivious to all around him.
A few days later - on June 22 - he was gone.
I was in Chicago to watch the Redbirds take on the Cubs the weekend Kile died of heart disease as he lay in bed in his hotel room. I remember being struck by how odd it was that the game's start was delayed even though there wasn't a threatening cloud in the sky. The city seemed very peaceful. But soon it was in chaos as St. Louis and Chicago fans alike seemed to panic about the cause of the delay. It was fairly obvious that rain wasn't the issue. And it was especially nerve-wracking because we were only six months past the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001. It seemed like additional acts of terror were a major threat.
I couldn't have imagined the reason was that a professional athlete - seemingly in perfect physical condition - could die of heart disease in his early thirties.
On Friday, the Cardinals played a contentious game against the Cubs. Kerry Wood outdueled Woody Williams to give Chicago a narrow win and Cubs fans had their claws out Saturday as game time neared. Then St. Louis fans learned via their cell phones that a Cardinals pitcher - later identified as Kile - had been found dead before Joe Girardi made his tearful speech about a tragedy in the Cardinals family.
One minute they were trading barbs. The next, Cardinals and Cubs fans openly wept while Chicago rooters hugged fans in red.
Everyone immediately became aware that there were things more important than wins and losses. That's something Kile knew all along.
He was less worried about his statistics and his career than he was about his team when he took the ball despite having a bad arm. He cared less about losing his job to up and coming young players than he did about teaching (then) young guys like Matt Morris and Rick Ankiel how to succeed at the major league level.
One of my biggest regrets as a Cardinals fan was that the Birds fell short in the 2002 playoffs after dedicating that season to their fallen team leader. I'll never forget a young Albert Pujols carrying Kile's number 57 jersey out onto the field when the Redbirds clinched a playoff berth that year.
But mostly I regret that Kile wasn't able to be there for his kids. I'm willing to bet the farm on the fact that he would have given up the fame and fortune of the major leagues for a few more Fathers Days with his family.
The fan blog "View From the Cheap Seats" appears daily online at bnd.com/cheapseats. Follow author Scott Wuerz on Twitter @scottwuerz.
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