R.I.P., Josh Hancock

A week and a half ago, our parents went to San Francisco, ostensibly to visit our sister. As is always the case with the Leitches, they tied their visit to a Cardinals game; they come to New York once a year too, whenever the Cardinals come to Shea. These yearly visits, and their (and our sister's) willingness to stay out late, have reaped benefits; they've become acquaintances with a few people on the Cardinals staff, two of which they popped by to have a beer with in San Fran. They met at the hotel bar where the Cardinals were staying; the Leitches, two mid-level Cardinals employees and ... Josh Hancock.

Our dad, trying not to look too fawning with an actual Cardinal in his midst, kept the conversation light; he says Josh — and when we talked to him yesterday, Dad called him "Josh" — mostly talked about his parents and sister, how his mom was a Yankees fan, how he talked to his sister during those quiet nights on the road, how hard it was to be away from his family sometimes, something our father said he understood. It was not a deep or lengthy conversation; our mom says Hancock "seemed shy, and a little lonely." Our parents, being kind of old, retired for the evening, and our sister stayed and chatted for a little bit, all low-key, just some nice people talking about nice things in a beautiful city. The next day, our parents and sister saw Josh from their seats and yelled for him. He stopped playing catch, smiled and waved.

The relationship that we, as fans, have with the athletes we follow is as genuine as it is bizarre. Not a single day has gone by since Opening Day 2006, when Hancock first appeared on the Cardinals' roster, that he has not been on our mental radar. We cheered him, we cursed him, we forgot about him, we repeated the process; he occupied a real place in our lives. We did not know him, and we were not particularly curious to do so; if he got batters out, he made us happy, and that was enough. His sudden departure — shocking, horrible, insane — makes us feel as if we have lost something that we never realized we had. We want to go back and cheer harder for him, forgive his mistakes more easily ... treat him as human in a way we never did as a mere fan. He shifts from middle reliever to human being only in death; this can drive a fan mad with guilt and confusion.

But we did not know him. Many did, in far more depth than our parents' fleeting encounter 10 days ago. To those, he was never a middle reliever. He was just Josh, quiet, friendly, reserved, living the contradictory life of a Major League Baseball player who toils in relative anonymity. We cannot pretend to have known him, or to understand the anguish of those who did. We can only know that we have lost something small but real, and hope and pray that those who lost more than that can find some sort of peace.

St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Hancock Killed In Accident [Daily Journal]