Kile remembered as tough, quiet

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Milwaukee catcher Robert Machado recalls the day a year ago when he batted against Darryl Kile.

Machado, then with the Cubs, hit a line drive in the fourth inning that went off Kile's glove and struck him in the face. The St. Louis pitcher recovered in time to throw out Machado.

''I remember when I hit that soft line drive, and thank God it was soft, his first reaction was to get the ball and get me out,'' Machado said. ''And that's what he did. I remember he refused to come out of the game, and his lip was swollen up real big.''

Kile stayed in for two more innings until he felt a bit woozy and came out. The cut lip was stitched after the game.

As the Cardinals and others in baseball mourned the sudden death last weekend of the 33-year-old Kile, many talked admiringly about his bulldog attitude, his willingness to play hurt.

''In 11 seasons, he never went on the disabled list,'' relief pitcher Mike Timlin said. ''How many times do you see that?''

He never missed a start, either.

''You don't pitch your whole career without missing a start unless you're really tough and can handle pain,'' manager Tony La Russa said.

A coroner's preliminary report revealed that Kile had two coronary arteries that were 80- to 90-percent blocked, raising questions about whether his tough, stoic nature may have led him to miss or ignore warning signals about his health.

Kile's father, David, died at age 44 in 1993. None of the medical questionnaires from the Cardinals or Kile's two previous teams, Houston and Colorado, listed any history of coronary artery disease or heart attack in his family, said St. Louis team physician Dr. George Paletta.

Paletta said he would have changed nothing about the team's screening practice, and that there was no viable way to detect an athlete at risk. He said doctors would have to screen 200,000 competitive athletes with no symptoms to detect one with a problem.

''This is really a needle in a haystack,'' Paletta said. ''That's not to say we can ignore it and we don't have to be diligent in our preseason screening. You're talking about an extremely uncommon and unfortunate set of circumstances that in most cases would be very difficult to pick up.''

Kile underwent an EKG test in both 2000 and 2001, but not this spring, because preseason evaluations didn't show any risk factors, Paletta said.

Reliever Dave Veres, a teammate of Kile's on all three teams and perhaps his closest friend on the Cardinals, doesn't remember him ever talking about the death of his father or worrying about whether it could happen to him.

Timlin said he never heard Kile complain about anything.

''Everybody's got their ailments,'' Timlin said. ''If we don't feel like playing, we've still got to play.''

Last season, La Russa never heard any whining from Kile as he won 16 games despite a bum shoulder that would require offseason surgery.

Kile also had problems in Denver, where the high altitude flattened his signature curveball and led to a 21-30 two-year stint with the Rockies before he was traded to the Cardinals after the 1999 season. But he didn't use that as an excuse either.

''He had a very difficult time there and it had to eat at him like you can't imagine,'' Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon said. ''He handled it unbelievably well.''

Veres remembers that Kile was more outgoing early in his career in Houston, but more reticent toward the media in Colorado and St. Louis.

''I asked him, 'How can you just give the basic answers all the time?' But that was him. But you can't hold anything against him because everybody knew his answers, the same answers he gave the week before.''

Last July, Kile threw eight shutout innings and left in a scoreless game against the Cubs. The Cardinals made a couple of errors behind Timlin and lost, so he wasn't happy.

''I was on the mound and we lost, so I didn't do my job,'' Kile said. ''That's the way I look at it.''

He tried to get teammates to offer up bland comments, too, without much success. Talkative right-hander Garrett Stephenson remembers Kile counseling him, ''Garrett, come on, don't give them anything.''

There was another Kile, too -- a gregarious and fun-loving teammate who loved to skip through the clubhouse singing Christmas carols in June and July on days when he wasn't pitching.

He made newcomers feel welcome, sometimes in offbeat fashion. Team publicist Brian Bartow said he'll never forget Kile's first meeting with So Taguchi, a Japanese outfielder signed by the Cardinals last winter.

''He's trying to learn the English language and Darryl comes up to the guy and starts speaking to him in Spanish,'' Bartow said with a chuckle. ''That was his way of saying, 'You're part of the team. Welcome.'''

Kile also quietly gave much of his time and money to charity. ''Kile's Kids'' handed out tickets and seats in the dugout to disadvantaged youth.

''The grounds crew, the janitor -- it does not matter,'' Stephenson said. ''I've never seen him treat any person like he was better than they were.''

A few days after Kile's death, La Russa rummaged through his desk looking for old lineup cards involving Kile when he was with the Astros, taking note of the grit that showed through in the tight games.

''He always pitched really well against us,'' La Russa said. ''It's neat to go back over those.''

After only two days of his first spring training with the Cardinals in 2000, he knew Kile would be a leader.

''There's no teammate that's not important,'' La Russa said. ''But he had a special importance because he was involved with everyone. He was involved with everything and everyone.''

In death, Kile taught them all something very important.

''None of us are exempt,'' said pitcher and former teammate Kent Bottenfield. ''You just don't know. I guess we should live life as if we don't know. Because, we don't.''

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