The sudden death of Frank Castillo, who pitched for the Chicago Cubs for most of the 1990s, is still another reminder of how short and precious life really is. We sometimes hold ballplayers up as some sort of a physical ideal, and certainly you don’t make it to the majors unless you’re in top physical condition. But they’re also human just like the rest of us, and to hear that Frank Castillo jumped into a lake and drowned at the age of 44 was an unwelcome piece of news. Thoughts and prayers are extended to his family at this difficult moment for them.
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But what is it about Cubs pitchers and early deaths? In 1997, Castillo pitched with Jeremi Gonzalez, who was struck by lightning and killed in 2008, at the age of 33. Another member of the Cubs staff that year, Kevin Foster, died of cancer in 2008, at the age of 39. And Foster and Gonzalez — but not Castillo — were also teammates with Rod Beck in 1998. Beck died in 2007, of causes that are still unknown, at the age of 38.
I don’t know about anyone else reading this story, but that’s four Cubs pitchers who died under strange circumstances, and at ages younger than I am right now. It’s so bizarre it defies an easy explanation.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it was later used by both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two men I have great respect for. They said “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will.” This means the end will come for all of us, and we can’t do a thing about that when it happens. All we can do is try to shape our lives while we still have them.
If it sounds depressing and fatalistic, that’s because it is. None of these four Cubs pitchers lived to what we might consider a ripe old age. In fact, all four of them probably expected to still be alive at this point, playing cards and signing their names at autograph shows and doing whatever else ex-major leaguers do with their time. But tragically, it was not to be for any of them. So, let’s use the sad example of Cubs pitchers to remind us to enjoy life while we still can.