My favorite — only? — Darryl Kile story
I’m writing a column on Darryl Kile — writing it now, actually, and this blog post is me taking a breather in that process — and the column will be up later this afternoon. As with my remember of Tony La Russa’s career, though, sometimes there’s an anecdote that just doesn’t fit into a story if you want to tell the anecdote right.
Kile, as I’ve written and said before, was very tough to cover when he was in St. Louis. I’ve heard that that was not the case when he pitched for the Astros, but by the time he got to the Cardinals, after a stop in Denver, he didn’t like giving interviews. He could be prickly and was always brief. I was in my first year on the beat, my first year on any beat, and in fact had been warned by my predecessor that Kile could be a bear to reporters. He was a big guy, I was a rookie who was totally out of his depth — it’s fair to say I was a little intimidated by him.
(Note: please read the column when it goes up, since it’s all about my reflection on the difference between the player that we in the media see and the man that the player is at other times.)
Anyway, it was early in Spring Training. I’d been down in Florida for maybe a couple of weeks. The reporters were standing around at the corner of Field 1, waiting for La Russa to come out and hold his customary briefing. Pitchers were tossing, warming up for the day. The nearest pair of pitchers was Kile and Rick Ankiel — Kile near, along the warning track, Ankiel farther, out in the outfield. This was 2002, so Ankiel’s difficulties throwing the ball were already well known and documented. It was a sore subject, to say the least.
(Perhaps some other time in this space I’ll share my favorite Dave Duncan story, which also pertains to Ankiel and is extremely funny but would require some heavy editing to fit in a family blog. But that’s for another day.)
So we wait, and we watch the pitchers throw. That’s quite a bit of what you do in Spring Training. And after a few, Ankiel throws a ball that drifts a bit, sailing in the direction of the writers. It didn’t sail a lot. It didn’t get away. But Kile had to stretch to get it. And from my angle, it really did look like the ball was coming right at us.
So, I said, not loudly and not pointedly, “Heads up.” The universal signal for, “Hey, that baseball could be in someone’s face sooner than later, so you might want to be careful.” Like I’ve said dozens, maybe hundreds, of times over the years at ballparks.
Kile caught the ball and immediately turned around. With a scowl, he practically growled, “Who said that?!?!?” I meekly acknowledged that I had, but that I certainly hadn’t meant anything by it. He didn’t follow up, didn’t pick a fight. I’m sure he quickly realized that it wasn’t a shot or a dig at Ankiel — but he didn’t know that at first, and for all he knew until he checked, it might have been. So it was his duty to make sure he had his teammate covered.
It was a little thing, but it was very much the essence of what Kile was about when he was around the team. Teammates first, above all else. He’d sent his message — he had Ankiel’s back, and if anybody DID want to get cute, they were welcome to go through him.