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St. Louis a perfect fit for Hancock

St. Louis a perfect fit for Hancock

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ST. LOUIS -- There's little doubt Josh Hancock was a better fit for cities like St. Louis and Cincinnati than for Boston and Philadelphia, where he played earlier in his career.

Hancock made his offseason home in St. Louis, and delighted in living in the city where he played ball. He attended hockey games and other public events, and was the sort of "regular-guy" player that not only teammates, but fans and media as well, took easily to.

A fierce competitor, Hancock surely hated to lose -- or even to give up a run. That aspect of his personality fit in anywhere and everywhere. But personally, he was more the easy-going type, Mississippi-born and Alabama-schooled. The pace in the Midwest was a little better fit for him.

When the Cardinals staged the premiere of MLB Productions' world championship video, Hancock was the only active player who attended. He was around, and he was free, so he figured, why not?

"I was just coming here for the DVD, hopefully sneak in the shadows and just watch it," he said at the time.

Hancock leaves behind both of his parents as well as a brother and sister. His sister, Katie, is a star high school basketball player who reportedly may attend Auburn -- like her brother did for a year. His brother, Jon Jon, played baseball at the University of Mississippi.

Many Cardinals counted Hancock as a friend, but especially his mates in the bullpen. The group grew close throughout 2006, and many of the same faces returned in '07.

With teammates, he was approachable. With reporters, he was honest. He was unafraid to say what was on his mind, even from day one in a new organization. After Hancock was let go by the Reds, he didn't hesitate to tell the truth about how he felt about it.

"There's a lot of bitterness," he said on his first day in Cards camp in 2006. "It still kind of stings. But I definitely think I was made an example of. It was just a shot across the bow, to the other players, to let them know that they've got to come in and be in shape and be ready."

After a play in September when he didn't cover first base as quickly as he might have, Hancock offered this honest assessment: "I'm a slow person, and I got there as quick as I could."

In an increasingly regimented and corporate world of professional sports, such candor is increasingly rare and always refreshing. He wasn't a cheap-shot artist, but he told the truth.

Josh Hancock, 1978-2007

He was a NASCAR fan, having grown up not far from the massive, famous Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Coincidentally, Hancock passed just hours before the Nextel Cup Series was set to run its first 2007 race at the track he visited numerous times.

Just this spring, Hancock tried to finagle a way to get from Jupiter, Fla., the Cardinals' Spring Training home, to Daytona Beach for the Daytona 500. He didn't make it, but the effort was surely there.

And that was pretty emblematic of how he went about a lot of things. Hancock enjoyed himself and had fun with the opportunities he was given.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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