2002-06-29 / Sports

"A Tragic Loss" Mets Cope With The Death of St. Louis Pitcher Darryl Kile

By Bryan Hoch

"A Tragic Loss"
Mets Cope With The Death
of St. Louis Pitcher Darryl Kile
By Bryan Hoch

News of the death of St. Louis Cardinals righthander Darryl Kile sent shock waves through clubhouses across Major League Baseball last Saturday afternoon.

It was a day that began like any other for the New York Mets, with players beginning to filter into the home clubhouse at Shea Stadium just after 4:00 p.m. to prepare for a night game against the Kansas City Royals. Jay Payton stood at his locker half-dressed, tugging at his uniform socks and belt as he nonchalantly spoke about his loss of playing time.

"It's out of my hands," Payton told several reporters. "You know, the one thing I can be thankful about is that at least I've got my health."

Eerily on cue, Mets assistant equipment manager Vinny Greco burst into the center of the clubhouse and asked if the players had heard the news about Kile. Distracted from his interview, Payton turned his attention to Greco and asked what had happened.

When Greco relayed the horrible information, it unanimously sent chills down the necks of the eight players and twenty or so media representatives present in the room. Several players converged at the large television set hanging from the center of the room as Payton fumbled to operate the unit.

Looks of shock and expletives were available from every face in the room as the audio of ESPNEWS trickled through large speakers entrenched in the clubhouse ceiling. Within seconds, the fact would be reinforced by a yellow and red computerized graphic of the St. Louis hurler on the television, accompanied with a text overlay of "1968-2002".

"It's a tragic loss," said Joe McEwing, who was a spring training teammate of Kile's with St. Louis in 1999. "It's very difficult for me, difficult to focus right now. He's a part of the baseball family. It's like I always say, you've got to live every day to the

fullest because you never know what's going to happen."

Bench coach Matt Galante was a member of the Houston Astros organization for twenty-one years before joining Bobby Valentine's staff with the Mets this season. Serving as Houston's bench coach, he had the opportunity to get to know Kile extensively during the righthander's tenure with the Astros from 1991-1997.

"My emotion is shock," Galante said. "Right now, it doesn't seem like the game means a whole lot. At 32 years old, you think you have a long life to live. Darryl was a good person, and that's more important than being a good pitcher, although he was one."

Galante spoke of a keepsake that he has from Kile's no-hitter on Sept. 8, 1993 against the Mets at the Astrodome, an enlarged print of the box score from the game that Kile autographed for him. "I hung it in my

game room. It's there right now," said Galante, who lives in Staten Island. "And it's not coming down."

No Met appeared more troubled by the passing of Kile than righthander Pedro Astacio, a teammate and a good friend of his over three seasons with the Colorado Rockies. Astacio learned the news from pitcher David

Weathers as he entered the clubhouse just after 4:30 p.m., and Valentine told reporters that he was having difficulty grasping the situation.

"[Astacio] was feeling like he should feel, his eyes were red," said Valentine, who was not 100-percent sure two hours before game time that Astacio would be able to make his scheduled start that night. "He was a teammate of Kile's and got to know him very well."

Just before 6:00 p.m., Astacio appeared in no shape to take the mound. He stood in front of his clubhouse locker fidgeting with a pack of Wrigley's spearmint gum, obviously shaken by the day's events.

Busta Rhymes' high-tempo hip-hop filled the air around the room as Rey Ordonez and Roberto Alomar conversed softly in Spanish, but a cloud of gloom hung over Astacio's head. He tried to quell his thoughts with small sips of Pepsi, but was distracted each time by the flickering images of his friend's face on the TV set just ten feet away.

Astacio eventually would set foot on the pitching rubber that night, taking the field following a moment of silence in observance of the day's tragic events. He appeared composed with his usual level of concentration, striking out the first two Royals to face him and not allowing a hit until Mike Sweeney singled with two outs in the fourth.

Raul Ibanez served as a one-man wrecking crew for Kansas City, lighting up the board with a three-run homer in the fourth and sending Astacio back to the clubhouse with a RBI single in the sixth.

That brought on Bobby Jones for the Mets, a southpaw who was a teammate of Kile's in 1998 and 1999 with the Rockies. Wearing the initials D.K. in chalk on the back of his cap, Jones held the Royals to one run in 2

2/3 innings and spoke later of what an influence that Kile had been on his career.

"He assured me that I belonged in the big leagues and that there was no way in hell I belonged in the minors," said Jones, who was demoted to Triple-A by Colorado in August 2000. "He assured me everything was going to be all right."

Across the room, Astacio's dapper outfit of a stylish dress shirt and neatly pressed slacks seemed to suggest a Manhattan night club, but his quivering lip and soft-spoken demeanor said the exact opposite.

"Darryl was a great teammate, a great guy in clubhouse, just a great player," he said. "I feel sorry for all his friends, including myself, and his

family. We're going to miss him and I'm going to remember him my whole life. He was a great guy and a great friend of mine."

Astacio was asked his favorite memory of Kile, but it was impossible to sum up years of friendship into one

sound bite or succinct sentence.

"Every time we joked, laughed, go eat together," he responded shakily. "I'm never going to forget him. He was a guy we played three years together, he was a teammate, like a brother, like family. When you see someone every day, he's like a brother.

"When I walked into the clubhouse and I saw it on the TV it was hard for me. We have to keep going but it's a sad day for us. I have to go out there and pitch, do my job because I have a job to do. We have to go out there and play the game."

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