Cards' thoughts remain with Hancock

Cards' thoughts with Hancock

MILWAUKEE -- With their late teammate's jersey on display, the Cardinals tried to go about their business on Monday night at Miller Park. All thoughts, though, were on Josh Hancock, not only the pitcher but the friend and teammate. And the reminders were everywhere, starting with his jersey.

The irony is that Hancock was just the sort of person who might have helped lighten the mood on such a somber occasion. He wasn't just the guy they missed -- he was the guy they needed.

"He was such a great guy and such a happy guy," said Jim Edmonds before the Cards' 7-1 loss to the Brewers. "Just such an original personality, as far as a jokester and competitor and friend. I can't help but think of all the funny things that used to go on in the clubhouse."

Some Cardinals understandably chose not to comment on the overwhelming loss. Others tried but had little to say. But those who were able and willing to speak told similar stories. They told of someone who found things to smile about, and ways to make people laugh, on a daily basis.

"He always had a big smile on his face," said Tyler Johnson, one of Hancock's compadres in the bullpen. "He was a happy guy all the time. Every day he came to the yard, he was smiling. He was so happy that he was there.

"It's a trait we all need to learn and take with us because outside life can be tough. His big smile on his face was just so memorable in my mind. It sticks out so much. It was an honor to know him and an honor to carry his jersey out there today and hang it up on the fence. He's going to be missed."

Pitching coach Dave Duncan isn't always one to put up with silliness, but he enjoyed having Hancock's personality around. He also enjoyed having a good competitor, and a pitcher who did the dirty work ranging from mopup to long relief in extra innings.

"It wasn't a role where you get a lot of attention or a lot of fame," Duncan said. "But it's a role that somebody has to fill on the ballclub. To play it as good as Josh did, he accepted the challenge, and it makes for a great situation.

"He was a very outgoing guy that could make a joke or be the recipient of a joke and it would all be as much fun for him. He was very well-liked by everybody on the ballclub."

Josh Hancock, 1978-2007

Ace Chris Carpenter is one of the leaders of the Cardinals pitching staff. He's widely recognized and respected for setting an impeccable example. So it was appropriate for Carpenter to laud Hancock's durability and availability.

"Obviously everybody's grieving and sad about the loss that we've had," Carpenter said. "Josh was a great player, a great teammate, a great guy in the clubhouse. We're going to miss him. It's going to be hard for a while.

"Josh was a guy that took the ball every single day whenever he was asked."

The visiting clubhouse at Miller Park remained quiet and reserved following Monday's game, the first the team played since finding out Hancock had passed away.

Randy Flores, who notified several teammates and ex-teammates of Hancock's death, still had a difficult time wrapping his head around all of it.

"We'll see over time if my answer gets better," Flores said. "I really don't know what to say other than that I miss my buddy, I miss my teammate and I feel for his family."

Scott Spiezio was overcome to the point that manager Tony La Russa removed him from the starting lineup. Spiezio spoke quietly and at times haltingly as he recalled Hancock.

"It's something I don't want to have to deal with," said Spiezio.

Spiezio said that it fell to him and his wife to break the news to Hancock's girlfriend.

"That wasn't easy to do," he said with profound understatement.

Sadly, very little about the last two days has been. But the Cardinals have to come to the park again on Tuesday. They'll play again on Wednesday afternoon, and on Thursday they'll fly to Mississippi for Hancock's funeral.

They have a job to do, and they will do it. But while baseball can provide escape from many things, it's not an escape from the death of a teammate.

"You try to play the game with your heart," said Scott Rolen. "You try to play the game with emotions. And when you're pushed emotionally, you become a little vulnerable. I think a lot of guys felt that, and rightly so. It's going to be that way, and we're going to go out and we're going to keep playing.

"We lost a teammate. We lost a family member in baseball, and that's not easy. It's never going to be easy. We shouldn't try to overlook that. We should address what the situation is and take care of each other and take care of ourselves."

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