Mets, Cards shocked by Lidle tragedy
Former pitching coach, ex-teammates at NLCS reflect on crash
NEW YORK -- There was no baseball played at Shea Stadium on Wednesday night, because of constant rain that forced postponement of the National League Championship Series opener between the Cardinals and Mets.
Somehow the pause seemed appropriate, because the overwhelming focus around the ballpark on this tragic day was on the afternoon plane crash that killed two people, including Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, whose small private aircraft struck a 50-story Upper East Side condominium.
"This really takes the sting out of baseball," said Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds, who knew Lidle for about 10 years after growing up in the same Southern California area. "Cory obviously is on everybody's minds."
That said it all. From former teammates to a former pitching coach to fellow Major Leaguers and everyone associated with this series, utter shock was expressed as a big story in New York suddenly became a baseball story, as well.
"It's really sad, tragic," said Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado, who played with Lidle in Toronto in 2003. "It happens right here in New York. A member of the baseball family passed away. It's definitely tough, and I'm sure it's really tough for his family. I'm at a loss for words. There are a lot more important things in life sometimes. ... Sometimes you kind of take things for granted. Life is precious. It's sad news for the baseball family and horrible news for his family."
One of the franchises Lidle had a connection with was the Mets, who issued a statement on Wednesday: "On behalf of Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz, Jeff Wilpon and the entire Mets organization, we express our heartfelt condolences to the Lidle family. Cory broke into the Majors with us nine years ago and developed into a solid Major League pitcher. The entire baseball community mourns his loss."
Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson had seen Lidle thrive as a pitcher when they were together in Oakland as coach and player. A few hours before what would have been a normal Game 1 start time, Peterson was clearly stunned as he searched for words in an interview room normally reserved for baseball talk.
"You try to deal with the emotions first. It's horrific. It's almost unbelievable. It's like a surreal moment," Peterson said. "There's no way that this could happen. I think it just goes to show how insignificant some of the things that we think are significant really are, when this comes down to the fact that we're about to play a baseball game and how important is that, really?
"When you look at, I think all of the things that transpire over on the other side of town with the Yankees, and I think it's very easy for fans and press to get perspective of what the reality is. These are real people preparing a baseball game ... and doing the best that you possibly can. This is not about life or death. It's about entertainment.
"The people that pull for the teams that they want to win the most get so wrapped up in how vital and how important that truly is, and I think it's moments like this where you take a different perspective and realize how fragile life really is, and how from one moment to the next, you know, you should cherish all those moments."
Peterson could only offer fond recollections of working with Lidle, and was simply as bewildered and stunned as everyone else here.
"Any time you're with somebody for a couple of years and you're around people and you see the best of people and you know, being around that in a competitive way, any time that you're with a teammate, it's horrific," Peterson said. "I wish I had words. I have no words. I just have very strong emotions, and it's just sadder than sad and there's no words to describe a loss of somebody that you spent some very special times with."
Cliff Floyd found himself in the interview room mostly answering questions about his Achilles tendon and being placed on the Mets' NLCS roster -- and naturally the subject matter then drifted to his thoughts about Lidle.
"Well, I think everybody in baseball is affected in some way, regardless if you played with him or not," Floyd said. "It's a tragedy, an accident, and our prayers go out to his family, of course. These type of situations, you just never know. You come to the park and you feel bad healthwise and you turn on the TV and see this type of tragic accident, it's mindboggling some of the things that, you know, happen. Unless you know, regardless of who you are again, anything can happen any given day."
The Cardinals are staying about 30 blocks from the site of the crash. There were a half-dozen players on the team bus that went from the hotel to Shea during the afternoon -- including scheduled starting pitcher Jeff Weaver. A Cardinals spokesperson said: "The traffic was maybe re-routed because of the crash, the rain and normal rush hour just getting out of the city. Those three things added up. We have an escort even and it took us an hour alone to get to the tunnel."
It was on that team bus that Edmonds "heard [Scott] Spiezio say something about Cory Lidle. I heard Mark Mulder say, 'Are you serious?' I guess he was talking to somebody who was watching the news at the time and told him. We were going under a tunnel. It's kind of shocking. A random plane ... then it's somebody you've known for 10 years. It's hard to imagine that happens."
Mulder, Lidle's former A's teammate, said: "It kind of gave me goose bumps. I don't even know what to say. I was real good friends with him because we played golf all the time on the road. ... I can't imagine what his wife and his son ... I feel terrible. I hope they are doing OK. He started taking the lessons in Oakland or that was the time he was at least talking about it. I know he loved flying. He did it all the time. Now I hear that his instructor was with him. My little brother flies those same planes sometime. When you lose a friend like that, it makes you realize how quick some things could go."
Jeff Suppan, who had been the Cardinals' scheduled Game 2 starter, was a teammate of Lidle's in the Minors in 1998. Like so many others involved in this NLCS, he said he heard about the news of a crash while coming to Shea, and then was shocked beyond belief to learn that Lidle had been killed as the pilot.
"Yeah, I played with Cory in 1998," he said. "It's really tragic. You know, you just don't hear things like that that often. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and for all his teammates that have played with him. You kind of really don't know really what to say. ... I don't really know how you process it."
Suppan's heart was now with the surviving family of a fellow member of the MLB pitching fraternity, and like others, he acknowledged the obvious difficulty in focusing on a playoff baseball game.
"Well, I think you only have control over what you have control over," Suppan said. "I just try to really, you know, focus on what I need to do. You do that the best way you can, and that's about how you do it. I mean, I don't think -- there's no right way or wrong way or it's just your way. It's just however you deal with it."
Mets reserve infielder Chris Woodward, who attended a rival high school in Covina, Calif., and played with Lidle in Toronto, said, "It's an important series, and important time for all of us. When something like that happens, it makes you realize what's important. When I heard it was his plane, my heart kind of sank. ... When it first happened, we heard it was a helicopter. When the details came out, everyone kind of just put their head down ... stunned.
"We were teammates for a year in Toronto, and we'd talk when we'd play Philadelphia. I remember talking to him in Philadelphia, and he was excited about getting his pilot's license, exciting about flying around."
Mets closer Billy Wagner said his former Phillies teammate "definitely should be in our thoughts. We had dinner at times, but didn't hang out a lot. Starters have their own thing and relievers go their separate ways."
When asked how he would describe Lidle, Wagner said: "Very prepared. Great competitor. Great husband and great father."
John Franco, the former Met who played with Lidle in New York, remembered "a happy-go lucky guy. I remember him getting called up to the big leagues. He is this bright-eyed kid. He always had a smile on his face. The thing that stood out with him for me was that he was a fierce competitor. He was also a great pool player. He took a couple us veteran guys to school. He has had a pretty good career.
"At first, I didn't know it was him [in the crash]. When you first heard about the plane crash, you obviously think about 9/11. But then when the reports came over and said it was him, I didn't know he was a pilot. You say, 'Oh, my god.' What a tragedy. You start thinking about his family and him."
Fans who came to Shea only to turn around and go home also were stupefied by the tragic development on what should have been a glorious day in Mets country.
"I couldn't believe he would go up in a plane that small and fly around today," said Larry Helfant of Long Island, a Yankees fan who was here in a group that included four Mets fans. "I remember when it happened to Thurman Munson and I thought it was terrible. They're talking about canceling the game tonight and I think it would be a respectful thing to do. It was a tragedy then and it's a tragedy today. It's just horrible."
Dan Kostecki, a longtime Mets fan from Newtown, Conn., called it "pretty shocking. Why was he flying at that time?" he asked. "I think it puts a little bit of a damper on things."
Before the game was eventually called because of rain, Kostecki said he was hoping they would play this one for Lidle.
"I think an appropriate memorial for him, though, would be the right thing to do."
Jason Isringhausen, missing this Cardinals postseason because of injury, closed out Lidle's victories when they were Oakland teammates in 2001. Isringhausen remembers a player who got the most out of life.
"I haven't talked to him in the last few years," Isringhausen said. "I really didn't know about the plane stuff until he left Philly. It's a sad day. I knew his wife and knew his little boy, Christopher. It was just a shock to hear. I called my wife and she was in shock, too. He was doing something he evidently loved to do.
"He was great in Oakland. We had a bunch of kids over there that had fun. He was part of it. He sat across from me everyday when we played cards on the plane."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. William Ladson, Lyle Spencer and Chris Girandola of MLB.com contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.