SAN DIEGO – Hey KT.
I’m sure you were here, at Petco this Sunday afternoon. Seemed like you were. Everybody said so. It was your kind of day – blue sky, the grass yellowy but rallying, fans in the stands, lots of baseball guys standing around, talking what they talk about. A better day for baseball than farewells, probably. Most are. I should mention the wind was blowing out, so maybe for you, an ex-pitcher aware of the frailties of current pitchers, it wasn’t exactly perfect. But, in case you weren’t here, if baseball were only the second-best thing there, I figured I’d fill you in.
First off, people cried. Some small and quiet, a few that heaving kind when it just has to come out. I know you probably wouldn’t approve. Not like you and I spent a lot of time talking about memorials or services or funerals, certainly not yours. But if it had to be yours, you’d have insisted on laughs. Stories and laughs. There was that, too, though, so you shouldn’t be disappointed. Man, would you have laughed.
Second, there was no beer. Don’t be mad. It came later, I’m sure.
They all came. Your friends, the men you mentored into general managers, the general managers you schooled, those who got the best of you on a few too, the general managers you worked for. The scouts, they came too. And the players. Your family from Iowa and Oregon came. Your dad just had surgery. If you looked in and didn’t see him, he’s fine. He’s recovering. He misses you.
Kelley came, of course. Seems she’ll be well taken care of. Everyone mentioned her first. How strong she was for you, how thoroughly she believed in you, like she was – and did – before you got sick. Sunday was maybe hard for her, seeing all those old pictures of your lives together, husband and wife, friends, parents to all those bulldogs. All of your friends came to see her, to tell her they loved you too, like she knew they did, but it had to be good to hear one more time.
“I said once that Kevin exhibited unmatched courage and dignity,” said Barry Axelrod, the agent and a longtime friend of yours. “I was wrong. Kelley, you matched it.”
— John Silva (@JohnnySilva619) February 25, 2018
They all spoke too, up on a stage out near second base, scoring position. A choir sang. The people sitting along the first-base line applauded. And a seagull circled overhead, sometimes in long, lazy arcs, sometimes just floating on that breeze you wouldn’t have trusted. You should know, now that you’re gone, the stories are the memories, and you come out pretty good in most of them. Usually you’re the guy having all the fun. You’re the guy who had the idea that led to the thing that led to the laughs. That, sure, sometimes, led to the hangover. But even those are funny in hindsight.
Bill “Chief” Gayton, a scout’s scout, leaned into the microphone and with almost no introduction at all, the man had barely cleared his throat, said, “The last time I ever drank was with KT,” and you just knew half the people in the crowd had at some point made themselves the same promise. Only Chief followed through. That broke the place up.
— Bill Gayton (@BillChiefGayton) February 23, 2018
Also, so you know, he told the story about you and him waking up in the same bed, the hotel maid perplexed. All innocent. And, also, that time he had to wear your pants. Chief had good stories which, by the end, seemed to make him sad at the same time.
Everyone agreed that 2-and-2 pitch to Tino Martinez back in 1998 was a strike. Mark Sweeney, who emceed with Mark Grant, brought it up. A few minutes later, Brian Cashman, the New York Yankees general manager then and a friend of yours before that, announced, “First of all, San Diego, that was indeed a strike back in ’98.” He sort of denied, however, the Yankees had anything to do with the food poisoning that befell Kevin Brown before that start. He also claimed that he did not wet your guestroom bed that time he came to visit. It was the dog. Really, the dog. So you know.
We learned there is a framed photograph of Phil Nevin hanging in the bathroom of the Padres’ front office. We also learned that in a fit you tore it from an office wall and relocated it yourself. It’s still there.
“We clearly had our moments,” Nevin said.
After a pause he added, “They made me better.”
Nevin came as part of what they called your “Foxhole Guys.” You had their backs. They had yours. Men such as Chief, and Jim Hendry, and Wally Joyner, and Charlie Kerfeld, and Ted Simmons. Nevin took some hits.
“I just had one quick thing to say,” he said when it was his turn. “And now I feel like I have to defend myself.”
He laughed that laugh you hope doesn’t turn into a cry. The one where you’re just barely holding on. They were hurting here, KT, a lot of them, and they hated to see you have to fight for so long. They knew you’d beat it. Just knew it. Those birthday parties you were so famous for, the ones Kelley would arrange? I have a feeling those will go on, so try not to schedule anything for next Nov. 11.
Also, Fred Uhlman Jr., your assistant general manager and friend, told that story about that stroke he had. The one that looked like a false alarm? So you’d called Kelley and told her, “Good news, Junior didn’t have a stroke. We’re going to Bully’s to celebrate.” Well, as you’ll recall, the next day Uhlman was back in the hospital, recovering from that stroke that looked like a false alarm. When you arrived at the hospital, you summed it up for Uhlman like this: “The alcohol from the vodka tonics thinned your blood. I may have saved your life.” On the bright side, he was in no condition to punch you.
So, for 2½ hours they talked. Theo Epstein reminded folks that you were, “My friend, my boss, my mentor. … There was no such thing as a peon for KT. Everyone was equal. It didn’t matter who you were. Or who you weren’t.” And Bruce Bochy remembered sitting with you through chemotherapy, you musing of San Diego, of the division titles, of the World Series, “You know, we did OK here, didn’t we?” And Bud Black recalled those postgames, when you’d arrive with a fist bump and a couple bottles of Miller High Life. And Kirk Gibson told of that time he head-butted Jon Daniels under your orders, but that it was, like, 5 a.m. by then, and after 2 o’clock all’s fair.
It was beautiful, KT. Don’t worry about all the tears. People are sorry you’re gone, and grateful to have known you. That old thing. But it’s true. They played the music you like. The Neil Young. The Jimmy Buffett. The Bob Marley. The Stones. They remembered you as a good man and a good friend and a guy they’d like to be more like. They smiled and lifted Kelley’s spirits, much as they could, and she smiled back. You remember the smile. It was a good day, best that could be made of it, anyway. You were surrounded by friends. You were surrounded by laughs.
Yeah, a good day. I hope you were here.
Oh, and by the way, the Dodgers lost.