Nine years have passed since Darryl Kile was taken too soon, and the legacy of the former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher still makes Albert Pujols grin.I get chills just thinking about DK57's loss.
Memories are fresh.
A Pujols favorite involves one of the slugger's first appearances at spring training with the Cardinals. At the time, Pujols' promise had yet to mature and making the big club was his goal.
Yet, Kile saw something burn bright in the young player. He dared Pujols to dream.
"Don't be afraid to make the All-Star Game," Pujols recalls Kile telling him.
Such exchanges are what some Cardinals miss the most. Kile passed away in his sleep at age 33 due to coronary atherosclerosis on June 22, 2002, in a Chicago hotel room before St. Louis was scheduled to play the Cubs.[...]
"When I was around, he was one of those unique personalities that always made you feel special — no matter who you were, no matter what level you were," said General Manager John Mozeliak, who was St. Louis' director of baseball operations in 2002. "I think it was just a great compliment to him, because he had that skill of making people feel good about themselves."[...]
"When you're a big-league player, you can start to think you are the most important person on the planet if a fair number of people tell you that every day," said Rick Horton, a former St. Louis pitcher who served as the Cardinals' chaplain in 2002. "You can tend to get a little too wrapped up in that, but he had a great humility in terms of how he was with his relationships with people around the club."
That humility was evident. In his time with St. Louis, Kile mentored Matt Morris and Rick Ankiel, and Pujols credits Kile as one of his inspirations to make a mark with relationships in the clubhouse.
"He was a great teammate," St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan says. "A leader."[...]
"Team player" is an overused term in sports. To La Russa, "DK" was something more. He was St. Louis' soul.
"A member of the family passed away suddenly," La Russa said. "It has happened to all of us. It was shocking, because he was a young guy and in good shape. That's not how you expect it."[...]
"In the end, this game is never going to be there forever for you," Pujols said. "Some time, you're going to be done and walk away. You have to think about the things off the field and the relationships you build and take it with you. Those are the only memories you can take."
All you have to do is take a look towards the bullpen during games.