I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “K.T.”
He turned to look.
It wasn’t him. Not K.T. at all. I started to apologize.
“Brownie,” he said.
It was him. Too thin, too slack, too dull in the eyes, but there was a trace of Kevin Towers, the gunslinger, the man who loved life so much, who laughed his way through it, in there still, in his voice.
His wife, Kelley, stood nearby, in the dugout at Petco Park. Walt Jocketty, the longtime big-league general manager and Towers’ friend, too. It was mid-March, the World Baseball Classic was in town, and Towers couldn’t resist a ballgame, maybe his last, but he didn’t think so.
He was 55 years old then, and fighting every step, every word, every thought.
“Hundred-and-seventy-nine pounds,” he said, patting the place where the rest had been. “My high school weight.”
That amused him.
“You look good,” I tried.
“Gonna find a way to beat this damn thing,” he said.
Kelley smiled. Walt nodded.
“Yes, you are,” I said.
Kevin Towers died Tuesday morning at 56. It was the cancer, which he’d fought for 14 months. This would be a good morning to pause and remember that today is important, that all the todays are important, but not like this today.
The game is poorer for the loss of Towers, as is anyone who ever shared a beer and a story and a laugh with him, which was most, and that means the world is poorer for it too.
He was a pitcher, not quite a major league pitcher. He was a pitching coach and a scouting director. He was a general manager twice, first for 15 years in San Diego, then for five in Arizona. He won four NL West titles with the Padres and went to a World Series, in 1998. He won the NL West once with the Diamondbacks. The results weren’t great otherwise, though more often than not he was up against payroll challenges. He hardly complained and, then, sometimes his aggressive methods came to be counterproductive. He was fired twice, which is generally how the job goes, and his final gig was as a scout and special assistant for the Reds.
The job changes people. But not K.T. He liked the job, the life, too much. He loved the game too much to spoil it with insecurities and solemnity. At a time when general managers are younger and more suspicious and afraid to be cornered by an opinion or even a personality, K.T. became part of the old guard and then was run off, but not before he had himself a good time, made a ton of friends, and laughed through most of it. He was always the coolest guy in the room.
When his Diamondbacks traveled three years ago to Australia to play the Dodgers, the flight crossed the international dateline, and skipped St. Patrick’s Day entirely. But not on that airplane. Towers ran the aisles butchering an Irish accent. A large green blinking shamrock dangled from his neck. We called him Kev O’Flav. A flight attendant asked the group to settle down a bit, and K.T. grinned like a 12-year-old caught TP-ing the neighbor’s oak tree. It was a good party, because K.T. was in the middle of it.
He had thoughts on things.
In 2004, then the general manager of the Padres, Towers got into a car with his manager, Bruce Bochy, following a spring game. He turned to Bochy and said, “Boch, I think I may have screwed up.”
“Yeah?” Bochy said.
“I ripped the Dodgers to some writers.”
It went like this: “You always think they’ll be good, and they end up finding a way to not finish in first place.”
The Dodgers won the division that year. The Padres were third.
“Yeah,” Towers said years later, grinning, “that wasn’t so good.”
He’d get mad at teams (most recently the Dodgers) for over-celebrating. He’d get mad at his own team for not retaliating when its hitters were thrown at. He was old-school, certainly. The leaning served some Padres and Diamondbacks teams well, and some not so well. He made solid trades (Adrian Gonzalez from the Rangers, Kevin Brown from the Marlins). He made awful trades. They all do. They all did. None of it happens in a vacuum. That was the job, and that was what he believed, and in the end that was who he was.
K.T. was OK with all of it. That’s what made him so cool. There wasn’t ever anyone quite like him, and there won’t be again. Man, he did love his todays.
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