It’s been 13 years and I still remember the day St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Darryl Kile died.
I had turned 11 years old just the month prior and baseball was undoubtedly my first true love. I spent my summers outside, tossing up a baseball to myself, hitting it and running the bases, which, more often than not, were paper plates held down by a rock in the yard.
And as we all know, with love comes heartbreak.
Ever since the historic Home Run Chase of 1998, Cubs-Cardinals games held a special place in my heart. I remember throwing pop-ups to myself in my grandparents’ front yard ahead of the June 22 game between the two clubs, eagerly awaiting first pitch.
First pitch never came.
As we all know now, prior to first pitch at Wrigley Field, Kile’s absence was noted and he was soon discovered dead of a heart attack in his hotel room at just 33 years old.
I had no idea what to do or even what to think.
When I was throwing to my pitch-back in the backyard, I regularly pretended to be both team’s starting pitchers and, more often than not, it was a Cubs-Cardinals showdown that featured either Kile or Matt Morris on one side and Jon Lieber or Kerry Wood on the other.
And just like that, Kile was gone.
I wasn’t a St. Louis Cardinals fan in any sense of the word. In fact, to this day, I root for their arch-rival Chicago Cubs. But that day, I felt the loss and pain that Cardinal Nation experienced.
The right-hander was coming off a pair of seasons in which he combined to win 36 games – including his only 20-win campaign in 2000, when he earned his second career All-Star selection.
As an 11-year-old, I had no idea how to handle the loss of a baseball player. I’d always assumed they were immortal – at least for the time being.
Naturally, expectations were once again high for St. Louis and Kile in 2002, and he was on-pace to win double-digit games yet-again before fate intervened.
The Cardinals went on to win the National League Central that season, overcoming a tremendous loss that was so much more than a name on the depth chart.
St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz covered Kile’s death on that fateful day over a decade ago, to the best of his ability, summing up the loss the baseball world felt.
He touched on a quote Kile offered after the death of his own father during the 1993 season, when he went on to earn his first All-Star selection, tossing a no-hitter in the process.
"“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, because my father was my best friend, ” Kile said. “But in order to be a man, you’ve got to separate your personal life from your work life. It may sound cold, but I’ve got work to do. I’ll never forget my father, but I’m sure he’d want me to keep on working and try to do the best I can do.”"
As Miklasz hoped on that emotional day, the 2002 St. Louis Cardinals embraced their gritty right-hander’s own words, picking up the pieces and making a push to the postseason.
With time, the wounds have healed to a degree and many have forgotten the loss the Cardinals and Major League Baseball felt on June 22 thirteen years ago.
But even now, the 11-year-old me still recalls how horrible it felt to see the world stripped of such a fierce competitor.
Darryl Kile didn’t play for my favorite team. He wasn’t even my favorite player. But he holds a special place in my heart in one of the most emotional baseball memories I have to this day.