Far too often in our society, sports fans either confuse athletic gifts with character or at least seem most willing to overlook obvious flaws in the latter due to an individual having been blessed with ample helpings of the former.
As a result, athletes are placed on pedestals, whether or not they truly belong. Later on, surprise and disappointment usually follow when off-field problems arise.
The players themselves know better.
In all the excitement of the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up fan festival last weekend, one of the most significant events of the annual gathering was almost entirely overlooked. In this case, a truly admirable, respected person was recognized by his peers in what should be a much more important than winning a fan popularity contest, for example.
What makes the naming of the annual winner of the Cardinals’ Darryl Kile Award so special is that it is not selected by fans or even the media. Cardinals players single out the individual from among them who best exemplifies Kile's qualities of being "a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man."
The 2014 recipient is not a star like several prior honorees such as Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday. He will probably never go on to manage the team later as has 2003 winner Mike Matheny. In fact, this year’s winner is no longer even a member of the organization.
Most Cardinals fans would associate the name Mark Ellis with terms like “bad signing” or “always injured” or “disappointment.” Baseball’s stat sheets will forever confirm that the second baseman had a difficult year on the field; in fact it was the worst statistical performance of his 12 years as a Major Leaguer.
Yet to his 2014 teammates, the 37-year-old South Dakota native and Arizona resident was a source of inspiration and admiration.
Despite not being involved in this edition of the Winter Warm-Up, the now free agent appeared in person to accept the Darryl Kile Award during last Sunday evening’s Baseball Writers’ Association Dinner.
“What an honor this is,” Ellis said, as reported by the Belleville News-Democrat. “What a great honor it was for me to be with this organization. Any time you win an honor from your teammates, it’s the ultimate honor. I was only here one year, but I had a tremendous time.”
As of yet, Ellis has not signed a contract for 2015. Maybe he will fade into the background and retire or perhaps he will secure a minor league make-good kind of deal as is so common this time of year in an attempt to hang on for another season.
Either way, it is clear that Ellis’ days as a Cardinal are over. In fact, as if confirmation is needed, his old uniform number has already been re-issued to another.
Yet there can be no doubt that in his lone season with St. Louis, Mark Ellis the man made a lasting impression on his teammates. Too bad that isn’t also being celebrated by the rest of us.
About The Darryl Kile Award
The Darryl Kile Award was first announced in January 2003 to memorialize the long-term impact made by the late Cardinals pitcher.
Kile took great pride in never missing a start in 331 major league outings and in never spending a day on the Major League disabled list in 12 seasons. The right-hander passed away in his sleep due to coronary disease on June 22, 2002, leaving behind a wife, two small children, legions of fans and a grieving Cardinals organization.
Prior winners include (no winner in 2002 to honor Kyle,) Mike Matheny (2003), Woody Williams (2004), Cal Eldred (2005), Chris Carpenter (2006), Russ Springer (2007), Adam Wainwright (2008), Skip Schumaker (2009), Matt Holliday (2010), Lance Berkman (2011), Jake Westbrook (2012) and Jason Motte (2013).
Other Cardinals Award Winners
Click here to view other Cardinals awards winners honored last weekend, as documented at The Cardinal Nation Blog. There was also one very special award given.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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