Lidle's death casts pall over NLCS
Tragic accident brings surreal atmosphere to an exciting day
NEW YORK -- The day was already dank, dreary and damp. And then it turned funereal. A night that was supposed to feature championship baseball took a heavy-hearted swerve into an afternoon of baseball mourning.
Some things are simply beyond rational reasoning. Some events defy any logical way of dealing with them. Some developments induce instant nausea, convincing helpless bystanders that they've lost all grip.
The death of Cory Lidle hours before the scheduled start of the National League Championship Series in the same city carries that caliber of a wallop.
It turns the day dark, weary and damned. It hangs heads, and even when people make eye contact, the only gesture that passes between them is a blank shake of the head.
And it makes "surreal" the most common expression in the halls and work rooms of a baseball stadium that planned to host a game, but instead is hosting a wake.
Cliff Floyd turns up in the formal interview room. He feels cheap talking about a sore Achilles tendon that had jeopardized his participation in a game.
"You come to the park, feeling bad health-wise, and you see this type of tragic accident," Floyd said. "It's mind-boggling. Just reminds you, anything can happen, any given day."
Except this. This can't happen. A Major League pitcher for the New York Yankees can't pilot his single-engine plane into an Upper East Side condominium hours before the New York Mets are to begin a Championship Series.
This is a bustling city, on and above the ground. You can't imagine how much aircraft traffic regularly hovers over the concrete canyons. It's days of the mechanical locusts, routinely. For a Major League pitcher to be piloting the one flight that ends tragically is unfathomable.
A reporter on his way to Shea Stadium from Manhattan gets a 3:12 p.m. cell call between the E and 7 trains from his son.
"Hey, I don't know where you are ... but we just heard a small plane crashed into a building around 72nd Street. Traffic's a mess, so just wanted to let you know so you don't get stuck in it."
Noted. But, beyond the obvious pangs in a city where airplanes and buildings evoke unsettling nightmares, filed away.
At Shea Stadium, the reporter awaits the elevator. Cookie Rojas, the former infielder and manager and current Spanish-language broadcaster, says, "Have you heard about that helicopter hitting the building?"
"I heard something, but I thought it was a small airplane."
"Naw. It was a helicopter."
In the press workroom, the TVs flicker with images delivered by remotes at the crash site. Nothing out of the ordinary. The sets are always on, reflecting whatever is happening. Other than idle curiosity, the TVs don't draw much attention.
At 4:20 p.m., a graphic and the accompanying voiceover identify the plane as having been registered to Lidle. Eyes dart to the sets, wide with disbelief.
From there, it takes mere minutes for word to arrive that the registered owner was in the plane.
"It's incomprehensible," said Rick Peterson, the Mets' pitching coach, who served in the same capacity during the 2001-02 seasons Lidle spent on the Oakland staff.
"I don't know how you process this. I feel for his family," said Jeff Suppan, the St. Louis pitcher who was a Minor League teammate of Lidle in 1998.
And so they go, the sad eulogies delivered from shaking heads, from all corners of the baseball planet.
Lidle was not a superstar. His bags were always packed. In nine seasons, he wore seven different uniforms.
But precisely because of that, he had a wide reach in the baseball family. His six degrees touched a lot of people, and his death affected them all.
Not only on the field.
At 5:40 p.m., an anonymous painful wail pierces the silence of a still-vacant Shea Stadium.
The day before, Preston Wilson had reminisced about cavorting around Shea Stadium as a 12-year-old watching pop Mookie and the rest of the 1986 Mets win the World Series. Preston talked about how welcoming it was to still see many of the same people working in various capacities in the park.
It stood then to reason a lot of current workers were also here in 1997, when Lidle spent his rookie season with the Mets.
That anonymous, painful wail confirmed it.
Peterson also stops by the interview room lectern. He isn't asked about Tom Glavine or John Maine. He isn't asked handling Albert Pujols. He isn't asked about a possible World Series run-in with his former Athletics.
He is asked about a dead pitcher.
"I keep repeating the same words, and people who know me pretty well know I'm normally not at a loss of words," Peterson said. "Right now, you feel like your soul is just totally bruised."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.