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Today in Cubs history: A Cubs game was cancelled because of the death of a Cardinals player

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It was a somber day at Wrigley Field.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I will never forget the afternoon of June 22, 2002 at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs, mired in fifth place, were scheduled to take on the Cardinals in a Saturday afternoon contest that was to be televised as Fox-TV’s Saturday Game of the Week matchup. The Cardinals led the N.L. Central going into that day’s action, though the Cubs had won the opener of the series the previous day 2-1. (Side note: The game of June 21, 2002 is the last time a game at Wrigley Field was completed in less than two hours.)

The scheduled game time June 22, 2002 was 12:20 p.m.

Noon passed and no players were on the field to begin warmups. This seemed odd. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon — no weather issues to delay things.

A buzz began to go through the crowd in the bleachers that “something” had happened among one of the ballclubs. Now, you have to remember: 2002 was before smartphones and before social media. Some back then didn’t have cellphones at all, but for those who did, the only way to find out anything was to actually make an old-fashioned phone call. But even that didn’t provide much information; no one had said anything on the broadcast or anywhere else.

A few minutes after the scheduled game time — to my recollection, it was about 12:25 — team staffers set up a microphone in front of the Cubs dugout and Joe Girardi, then in his second stint with the team, stepped behind it, surrounded by his teammates.

What Joe said, I will remember forever:

You can hear the applause at the end of Girardi’s comments, during which he nearly broke down in tears. It was a sensitive, respectful moment. After that, the players left the field and those of us in the stands looked around at each other, briefly not knowing what to do, then realized that we all just needed to go home.

Later that day, it was revealed that Cardinals righthander Darryl Kile had passed away from a heart attack in his downtown Chicago hotel room, aged just 33.

The teams played the next night, somewhat half-heartedly, it was ESPN’s featured Sunday night game. The Cubs turned off the PA system that night, no announcements nor music were played and the message board then under the center-field scoreboard simply displayed “DK 57” for the entire game. The Cubs won that game 8-3, not that it really mattered, and the postponed game June 22 was made up as part of the first-ever day/night doubleheader at Wrigley Field August 31.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch today reposted a column from Bernie Miklasz written at the time that captured the raw emotions of that June afternoon 18 years ago. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but this in particular got to me:

Our hearts just thump and sag thinking about how it ended for DK. If a man is to die at age 33, he should at least be surrounded by the warmth of family and the glow of loved ones, who could hug and kiss and comfort him. And he should have the opportunity to reflect on his life and his deeds, and he should be able to say goodbye to his wife and children, and maybe impart some final advice that could help carry his kids through life. He should be told that he is loved. He shouldn’t die away from home, in a sterile hotel room, surrounded by stock furniture and generic paintings. In the final moments, did Kile know? Was he able to think of his wife and their three small children and smile just before the fear took over? It’s just too unbearable to contemplate.

It was a sad day, 18 years ago today at Wrigley Field. Darryl Kile never pitched for the Cubs, only against them, and so we did not get to know him the way fans of the three teams he played for, the Astros, Rockies and Cardinals, did.

But I think he’s worth remembering, and so are the sensitive words of Joe Girardi, showing even as a player the leadership skills that eventually made him a successful big-league manager.

Rest in peace, Darryl Kile.