Coping with Tragedy

It has not been a particularly pleasant week for Chicago Cubs news. A week that started with the dismissal of Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry last Sunday progressed with a New York Times report two days later claiming that former Cubs outfielder and slugger Sammy Sosa had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

As disappointing as those two news items were – it's doubtful that many people were really shouting from the rooftops when either were announced – it pales in comparison to the news that Casey Kopitzke and his wife, Erin, lost their less-than-8-week-old daughter, Catherine, last Saturday.

There are no words to describe the tragic death of any child, whether that "child" is 18 years old or less than 8 weeks old. Kopitzke, a former Cubs player and the organization's catching coordinator from 2007-08, was set to begin his first stint managing in the minor leagues for the Class-A Boise Hawks this week.

Instead, Franklin Font will guide the Hawks when they open their 2009 season tonight in Boise against the Tri-City Dust Devils.

According to team sources and a Thursday report in the Idaho Statesman, the Kopitzke's daughter had spent some time in the intensive care unit leading up to her death, and a good portion of Erin Kopitzke's pregnancy had been on bed rest.

Again, there are no words to describe what the Kopitzke's are going through. But there are words to describe Casey Kopitzke as an individual, and plenty of them.

I first met Kopitzke myself in 2006, his final season as a player. He was with the Iowa Cubs that year, and my initial thoughts of him were that he was a quiet, professional, unassuming, and by all accounts incredibly mature person.

He spoke to practically no one -- not even to teammates, they said. He never showed up a teammate, a fan, an employee, or an umpire. If, as a manager, Kopitzke is ever thrown out of a game for arguing, it will surely surprise most everyone.

At any rate, I had been covering the 2006 Iowa team in a series for several days before I decided to introduce myself to Kopitzke. When I did, he still did not speak much, but I got him to open up about a few things anyway -- mainly his two sports-related passions: his love of baseball and the Green Bay Packers.

He talked about going to Lambeau Field every year and growing up in Wisconsin following the Milwaukee Brewers and his favorite player, Paul Molitor. He said that Sosa's home run chase in 1998 turned him on to the Cubs while in college.

A year later, in 1999, Kopitzke was drafted by Chicago, and seven years after that, he had been serving as the Iowa team's first base coach on then-manager Mike Quade's staff for parts of that season (he played in only 30 games).

It was clear to everyone by then that his future was as a coach; not as a player. It was just as well. He did not care much for his own personal accolades. When it came to baseball, winning as a team was – and is – all that mattered to him.

Quade gave Kopitzke a ringing endorsement for a coaching role and at the end of the season, the veteran catcher announced his retirement. A few weeks later, he was named the Cubs' minor league catching coordinator and would stay in that role until it was announced last off-season that he would manage this year's Boise team.

What I remember most about Kopitzke happened on the final night of that Iowa series. Most of the players had boarded the bus that would take them to the airport and I was finishing up a last-minute speaking arrangement with another player.

Kopitzke saw me, waited for me to finish, and then came over and held out his hand. He wished me luck, thanked me for introducing myself and told me to take care.

I did the same, but there was always a part of me that felt awful about that. Here was a player that knew I was not at the ballpark to talk to him. Few people ever were, of course, and Kopitzke was fine with that; probably, he even preferred it that way.

But that nor anything else ever stopped him from being a complete gentleman and a statesman of the game both on and off the field.

That is one thing that makes this particular tragedy so tough; that sometimes bad things happen to good people. There is no message here, other than to say that Casey Kopitzke is a good person that has been dealt a most unfortunate hand.

We and everyone here wish he and his family all the best in coping with this tragedy.

Northsiders Report Top Stories