New York — Always personable, always eager to chat, Cory Lidle showed up at Phillies spring-training camp in February, bubbling with enthusiasm for the new rich-kid's hobby he had picked up over the winter.
Actually, flying wasn't just a hobby for Lidle. It was a passion. In just a few months, he had earned his pilot's license and bought a small airplane. He talked about being able to fly from his Southern California home to Pebble Beach for a round of golf, or over to Las Vegas for a day at the poker table.
Whenever someone mentioned the dangers of flying a small plane, the veteran pitcher and rookie pilot winked with bulletproof certainty and said that he'd be just fine, thank you.
"I'm safe up there," he said in June. "I feel very comfortable with my abilities flying an airplane."
He said it with such confidence that you didn't bother to speak the words you wanted to. Inside, you said them anyway.
This is a tough one. Cory Lidle was killed when his plane crashed in Manhattan on Wednesday. He was 34, with a whole life ahead of him. He had a wife and a 6-year-old son.
During three seasons, we watched Lidle pitch for the Phillies. His last game for the team was a good one. He beat the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park on July 27. He struck out eight and walked none in eight innings.
Three days later, he was traded to the New York Yankees. Shortly after joining the Yanks, he took a trip to Philadelphia to retrieve his airplane. On Wednesday, he was in the cockpit when that plane crashed into the side of a high-rise apartment building. Within minutes, the television cameras were there, and we all saw the fiery aftermath, not knowing at the time who was in the plane. A short while later, the crawl on the bottom of the TV screen said the plane had been registered to a major-league pitcher named Cory Lidle.
Lidle was not the most popular guy in the Phillies clubhouse, though he was scheduled to attend Mike Lieberthal's wedding in November. Some teammates still resented his being a replacement player. Others resented him for criticizing the team's will to win after he had been traded to the Yankees.
It all seems trivial now that there's been this death in the family and Cory Lidle is gone. He said he was safe up there. He said it with bulletproof certainty. Oh, that he would have been right.