Lamenting a colleague's death

Jim Riggio

Opening the month of June with a 16-3 record, former Burroughs

High baseball standout Mike Magnante and his Oakland Athletics

teammates had reason to be in a good mood after going 10-17 in the

month of May.

But reality struck hard for Magnante and many players in major

league baseball a week ago when they heard of the death of St. Louis

Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile.

Kyle died in his sleep June 21. An initial autopsy reveled that

Kyle died of coronary atherosclerosis, a blockage of main arteries to

the heart. Kile, who left a wife and three children, was just 33.

Magnante and Kile were teammates with the Houston Astros in 1997,

and Magnante has many fond memories of his fallen colleague. He said

he was also shocked when he first heard of his former teammate's

death.

"I was on the team bus going to the stadium and one of our

relievers, Jim Mecir, said Darryl Kile was found dead. At first I was

almost like 'it can't be right,' " said Magnante, a relief pitcher

with Oakland. "I called my wife right away to turn on the TV to see

if it was true, and unfortunately, it was.

"On our team, we have three guys who played with him and Art Howe

managed him."

Although they played together for just one season, Magnante -- who

played at UCLA -- and Kile knew each other long before the 1997

season.

"Darryl once told me he'd been on a recruiting trip to UCLA and he

remembered me," said Magnante, of Kile, who grew up in the Inland

Empire. "We followed each other through the minors. We played against

each other in Class-A ball and in Double A."

Although both went on to have successful major league careers,

they shared struggles together in the minors.

"He told me once we had set a Southern League record on the same

night in two different cities, and it's a record you don't want to

remember because we both walked the first six batters we faced,"

Magnante said.

Magnante, 37, who began his career with the Kansas City Royals,

joined the Astros in 1997.

"When I went to spring training, Darryl was one of the first guys

to come over and greet me. He was recounting the UCLA thing. It was

like we had been friends for years," Magnante said.

Both Kile and Magnante had the best seasons of their career in

1997. Kile went 19-7 with a 2.57 earned-run average and Magnante went

3-1 with a 2.27 earned-run average out of the bullpen.

"In Houston, I'd play catch with Billy Wagner, but I'd [go] over

to Darryl and I'd get down like a catcher and catch him. Darryl is

the reason why I throw a side-armed curve ball," Magnante said. "We

were screwing around one day and I tried to throw one. I threw about

three and he said, 'You're doing what I did wrong' and he proceeded

to teach me. And I used it that next game."

Magnante, who wore number 57 with the Royals, said he often joked

with Kile about giving up the number to him when they were with the

Astros. They both broke into the major leagues in 1991, and seniority is usually a determining factor if two players want the same number.

But the one thing Magnante said that he will remember most about

Kile was his friendliness with everyone on the team, extending from

the highest-paid player to the youngest rookie.

"Darryl included everyone in everything he did," Magnante said.

"He set up golf matches on off-days and if he was setting up, it

included everyone from the highest paid guy to the lowest, [along

with] the coaches and the media."

Magnante said pitchers usually hang out together and position

players usually stick together off the field, but some of Kile's best

friends in Houston weren't pitchers.

"He and Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were as close as one could

be," Magnante said.

Stunned by the news of Kile's death, Magnante said he faced the

difficult task of having to pitch in the wake of the tragedy, even

though his mind was on Kile.

"You learn over the years mentally that you have to put things

aside," Magnante said. "There are things you don't want to be out

there doing, but you have to."

Magnante said what makes Kile's death so tough on many who knew

the Cardinals player is that he was so well liked -- and because of

the circumstances.

"It's always a tragedy," Magnante said. "Sometimes, it's someone

who doesn't make a wise choice. In this case, this guy took care of

himself. I think all of baseball was somber."

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