Baseball and nation shocked by tragic loss of Darryl Kile

By Ben Adams

The mood at Wrigley Field, generally speaking, is festive and easy-going. Though many are loyal, involved sorts, most of the fans actually in attendance at the average Cubs game frolic in their own ignorance of the team’s on-the-diamond woes. They are the types that get on the Red Line to Addison in search of a pleasant day at the ballpark; what amounts to a glorified picnic. This is not the place best equipped for such a tragedy. This is not the place to mourn the death of Darryl Kile.

But then, no place really is.

When Darryl Kile was found dead in his Chicago hotel room on Saturday, the nation dropped its collective jaw. Every sportscast for the past five days has borne the scar of an utterly unjust, utterly unexpected horror. The media, like the fans that support it, seems unable to free itself of the grips of this tragedy.

What has emerged out of the shock, more than anything else, is how human Darryl Kile really was. Every source echoes the same sentiments: Kile helped his teammates, played his heart out, and never made excuses. He was not Nolan Ryan (though it must be said that he appeared to be on that track at times), but he was a dedicated, earnest pitcher capable of succeeding in his own right. A friend to everyone on the diamond, Kile earned the respect and admiration of people who never even shared his uniform.

The sudden occurrence of what appears to have been heart failure could not have struck a more decent man. America cannot account for this. It is mired in the depths of a terrible nightmare.

But what has it been worth? All this mourning, all this focus on the saddest moment in baseball since the similarly shocking deaths of Cleveland pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, all this talk has scarcely been anything but idle. To be sure, the nation owes its deepest sympathy to Kile and to his wife and children, who must have been profoundly effected by this terror. And the response of fans and media has served that role, providing all the consolation that such sympathy can offer.

But there has been something else afoot, something that the national media has been participating in without knowing it.

After years of taking their global primacy for granted, Americans had their cages rattled by the terrorist attacks in September and have since experienced an almost continual need for collective self-examination. Peter Jennings first demonstrated it, broadcasting continuously for innumerable hours in the immediate wake of the bombing. Movies like The Sum of All Fears pointed to it. So did music; witness the success of Ryan Adams’s “New York, New York.” And sports had their place, too, ceasing all activity for a solid week after the incident. Disparate as these examples seem, they are all positions in the field of culture upon which we play out our shared sentiments in response to events both mundane and terrible.

Darryl Kile was so eminently human, so likeable, and so worthy an individual that his death provides a new locus for the profoundly unsettled national consciousness; a mirror in which the nation once again gazes at its own image. The stock placed in this reflection reveals the bared, fragile soul of a newer, more cautious people incapable of absorbing loss in the same way we once could.

Like America’s success in the World Cup, the passing of this young talent has been etched deeply into the nation’s minds. The radio here in New York City has been blanketed with the voices of callers who see themselves in Kile. Sports fans, armchair doctors, and humanitarians alike wish to distribute advice to their fellow mourners. As we stumble towards the one-year anniversary of the day that shook our confidence, we do so with a new compassion and a newly tested faith. We all feel for Darryl Kile, because he is one of us. He will be missed, even by those who never knew him.