If you didn’t follow baseball in the 1990s, you might be a little confused as to why so many fans were so crushed by the news of Darren Daulton’s death Sunday.
Sure, anyone dying is sad, particularly of cancer, but what’s the big deal about a career .245 hitter passing away?
One story from Kevin Roberts, the communications director of a board to end homelessness in Philadelphia, perfectly sums up why Daulton meant more to the game and the city he played in than just the numbers he put up on the field.
As Roberts recounted to MLB.com’s Paul Hagen, he once asked Daulton why homelessness initiatives meant so much to the catcher.
“I was a kid from Arkansas City, Kansas,” Daulton said, via MLB.com. “When I made the big leagues, it was the first time I was in a big city, and I thought: ‘I’m going to live downtown, in the city where I play.’
“I’d come home late at night from the ballpark, and it was the first time I ever saw a homeless person. I’d be driving home, and see someone sleeping on the street, curled up on a heating grate. And it just broke my heart.”
Roberts added, per Hagen: “(Daulton) never thought, ‘Well, someone else will figure that out.’ He thought, ‘OK, how can I fix this?’ ”
Empathy for one’s fellow man shouldn’t be so noteworthy, but in a world where professional athletes are increasingly cloistered and oblivious to the struggles of real people, Daulton’s words speak volumes.
And don’t be fooled by Daulton’s misleadingly pedestrian statistics, either. At his peak, he was a three-time All-Star who finished in the top seven of Most Valuable Player voting twice, and was a critical clubhouse presence on a couple of exceptional Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins teams.
Daulton died Sunday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 55. Don’t be surprised if the outpouring of emotion from Phillies fans exceeds the reaction that might eventually be given to bigger names such as Mike Schmidt or Pete Rose. “Dutch” was that beloved.
Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images
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