The Empty Locker
By Robert Nishihara
What do you say to a friend a day after he's no longer there to hear you?
When the St. Louis Cardinals showed up at Wrigley Field for their June 23rd game versus the Chicago Cubs, they must have been speechless. Their teammate and friend, pitcher Darryl Kile, had passed away suddenly the day before. His empty locker, a painful reminder of his absence, must have been a focal point in the room. Thoughts, prayers, and remembrances were surely sent in the direction of that empty locker.
Despite heavy hearts and grieving minds, the St. Louis Cardinals players did eventually speak and they spoke loudly and courageously. They voted unanimously to play the June 23rd game rather than postponing it. Though they ended up losing the game, the St. Louis players should be commended for a number of reasons.
Baseball is a sport that emphasizes perseverance. The major league baseball season, which stretches from April to October, grinds by day after day, week after week. The games just keep rolling by and players must remain committed to each on the day that they are played. Psychologically and physically, baseball players must learn to balance maximum effort on a single day and equally distributed effort over several months. The reality of the sport is the schedule never stops, all 162 games in a given season loom inevitably on the schedule.
Darryl Kile understood this. In his two plus seasons with the Cardinals, he consistently took his spot in the rotation, breaking the 225 innings pitched mark in both 2000 and 2001. His 38 wins over those two seasons paced the St. Louis pitching staff.
By agreeing to take the field against the Cubs on June 23rd, I believe that the Cardinals' players not only paid tribute to the relentlessness of the baseball season but also to the warrior-like nature of their fallen comrade.
Major league baseball players belong to a rather exclusive fraternity. Every man who puts on a major league uniform has earned that privilege by besting a massive amount of competition at every level of play leading up to the major leagues. The exclusivity of that accomplishment creates a bond among these men that is unique. It is a bond made up of professional respect, shared experience, and world-class ability.
Thus, when a member of this special fraternity is taken at such an early age, the whole group feels the loss. That Kile's St. Louis teammates were able to cope with that loss and play that game against the Cubs in his memory speaks volumes about the power of the bond shared by players but also the strength and resiliency of the guys wearing Cardinal red. Though I obviously cannot fully understand the connection major league players have with one another, I can empathize with the loss of a friend.
The saddest aspect of this tragedy, of course, is the loss felt by Kile's family. Though there is little anyone can do to truly help them through this difficult time, one can hope that they may be able to take some solace and find some measure of strength from the collective condolences of baseball fans everywhere.
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