06/26/2002 01:08 am ET
Two teams, one sorrow
D-Backs and Astros players plan to travel to St. Louis
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- A white, circular memorial plaque bearing the initials "DK" now sits beneath the Astros' 1997 championship banner on the left field wall at Minute Maid Park.
The three-foot marker was mounted early in the afternoon on Tuesday, prior to the series opener between the Houston Astros and the Arizona Diamondbacks, two teams that were among the hardest hit when the baseball world lost Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile on Saturday.
If you were to peruse a collection of Astros' rosters from the early 1990s, you would find a lot of those same people who are in uniform here at Minute Maid Park this week. Between the two clubs, eight were members of those early Astros teams that were part of a youth movement as the organization looked toward the future.
Unfortunately, unhappy circumstances surround the latest reunion between old teammates as they prepare to fly to St. Louis to pay their respects to the Kile family, who lost a husband, father and son when the 33-year-old died from heart complications in his Chicago hotel room.
A large contingent of both Astros and Diamondbacks personnel have made separate plans to fly to St. Louis for a memorial service on Wednesday. From the Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Brad Ausmus, Shane Reynolds and their wives, plus traveling secretary Barry Waters, equipment manager Dennis Liborio, general manager Gerry Hunsicker and club owner Drayton McLane. From the Diamondbacks: Luis Gonzalez, Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, Greg Swindell, Chris Donnels and Greg Colbrunn.
Upon the Diamondbacks' arrival to Houston Monday night, Biggio invited all of Kile's former teammates from both clubs and their spouses to his home for an impromtu memorial service to remember their fallen friend.
"The best feeling that we have is just being able to be around each other and talk amongst ourselves," Gonzalez said. "Biggio's family had a nice little service out his house with our guys and most of their guys and it was really nice just to sit around and have everybody talk about D.K. We have a lot of great memories."
Kile's former teammates are anxious to see Kile's widow, Flynn, and their three young children.
"I don't know how much time we'll have to spend," Ausmus said. "But we'll see Flynn, and that's the most important part."
Said Bagwell: "My heart and all my feelings will be with them. It'll just be nice to give (Flynn) a hug and see the kids and his family."
Gonzalez, whose wife, Christine, and four-year-old triplets accompanied him on the trip, agreed that Flynn Kile and the ordeal that she faces is weighing the most heavily on their minds right now.
"We have to be there for her now and for the kids," he said. "Baseball is a strange fraternity. Guys and their families are around each other for seven, eight, nine months out of the year. With her not having D.K. anymore, it's important for us to try to stay in contact with her and just let her know how much we thought about him and try to help the kids as well."
And when they get back to Houston in time for the 7:05 gametime, the group will try to go back to business as usual. But they know it won't be easy.
"We have a job, I guess, that we have to do, and that's part of being a professional," Bagwell said. "I'm in a little bit of a numb stage. I've been through the whole deal -- I've been numb, I've been mad ... that's part of the grieving period. I'm sure tomorrow will be a very emotional day. When something like this happens, the other things that you have to do just don't seem that important."
Said Ausmus: "You learn to play. When you play baseball for as long as we have, you learn to play regardless of what's going on in the environment around you. It doesn't mean that you necessarily enjoy it like you should. Certainly playing baseball is something that is fun. Even though it is a job, it is a game. But when you lose a friend, especially one at such a young age, under such unexpected circumstances, it deadens your mood and certainly you'd sometimes rather just crawl in a hole. But (playing baseball) is something we have to do right now."
It seems even more appropriate that the Astros and Diamondbacks are playing each other this week, considering how many of those players were on the Astroturf wearing their rainbow-striped uniforms on Sept. 8, 1993 when Kile threw his no-hitter.
"It was the first time any of us were involved in something that was big and dramatic," Gonzalez said. "But the next start he'd throw a two-hitter and he'd go in and watch tape for two hours trying to figure out how he could throw another no-hitter. He was a perfectionist. Things like that that were special, and that was D.K.
"Baseball is probably the last thing on anyone's mind right now. I find myself standing out in left field wondering what the heck am I doing standing out there when you want to go home and hug your wife and kids and tell them how much you love them. You learn to appreciate things a little bit different now when you see it on the other side."
Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.