Wes Brickey's most treasured baseball memento is a game ball from a Houston Astros' 6-4 regular-season victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
It was the ball Darryl Kile pitched while claiming his first major league victory on June 23, 1991.
Kile gave the ball to former Chaffey College baseball coach Howard Lowder, the man credited with teaching Kile the curveball that he developed into the signature pitch of his repertoire.
Before Lowder died in 1992, he passed along the ball to Brickey, Chaffey's former director of maintenance who supervised all athletic fields at the school and once built a pitching mound for Kile under the football stadium's stands to allow for practice when it was raining.
Brickey, now retired and 73, spent Saturday mourning the death of Kile, 33.
"We spent a lot of time together when he was here," Brickey said. "I can't believe he's gone."
Chaffey College, in Rancho Cucamonga, was a pivotal stop for Kile. He was born in Garden Grove and attended Norco High, where he was a first baseman/pitcher who was deemed too thin to gain a Division I scholarship.
"He really just wanted to go to Riverside Community College, but they wouldn't take him," Brickey said. "They thought he was too skinny too."
Lowder thought differently.
"I'm not saying Howard knew that Darryl would turn into the pitcher he became, but I clearly remember him telling me one day when Darryl and another kid from the Riverside area came to the campus that I had to see this kid [Kile]," veteran Chaffey Athletic Director Bob Olivera said.
"Howard said, 'I think I can turn him into a pitcher.' "
The Astros, acting on a tip from a regional scout named Ross Sape, selected Kile in the 30th round of the 1987 draft.
"We knew we could keep his rights for another year because of the draft-and-follow rules, so Ross went to work with Darryl on nutrition and strength programs after we picked him," said Doug Deutsch, an Astros' Southern California scout.
Olivera said he remembers a startling summer body transformation in Kile. "It was like he became Lou Ferrigno turning into the Incredible Hulk," Olivera said. "He started growing like a weed. He just took off, like 30-to-40 pounds and two or three inches."
Deutsch said Kile's fastball speed reflected the changes, rising from 83 mph to 92 mph.
"The stuff was there when we drafted him--he had a blessed arm--but Ross and [then-Astro West Coast scouting supervisor] Reggie Waller knew how to get it there," Deutsch said. "He became a prized trophy."
Kile dominated at Chaffey as a sophomore, striking out 125 in 110 innings and finishing 10-2.
Pepperdine was ready to add him to its staff. And other major league scouts judged Kile to be a top-15 pick in the first round. The Astros chose to sign him, delivering a stunning $100,000 bonus.
"There was no way we could let him get away," Deutsch said.
Kile moved up the Astros' chain, pitching a no-hitter and making the All-Star team in 1993.
"He was an ace, at Houston, at Colorado, at St. Louis," Olivera said. "I am just absolutely crushed by this. Darryl was a good human, a caring individual who you wanted good things to happen to.
"I just want to know what happened. I'm devastated by this."