Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Towers' life celebrated at Salt River Fields

MLB.com @castrovince

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The road near the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain is one Kenny Williams had driven many times, back when a weekly cocktail with Kevin Towers was something of a Spring Training ritual. Williams misses those nights, those free, easy and fun talks with the man everybody in the industry knew and loved as "KT." And being here in the first spring season since Towers' death, driving down that road and thinking about his departed friend might have caused Williams to lose himself in the moment of reflection had a silver Mercedes-Benz not swerved into his lane and cut him off.

Jolted into the present tense, Williams looked in disbelief at the E350's vanity plate:

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The road near the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain is one Kenny Williams had driven many times, back when a weekly cocktail with Kevin Towers was something of a Spring Training ritual. Williams misses those nights, those free, easy and fun talks with the man everybody in the industry knew and loved as "KT." And being here in the first spring season since Towers' death, driving down that road and thinking about his departed friend might have caused Williams to lose himself in the moment of reflection had a silver Mercedes-Benz not swerved into his lane and cut him off.

Jolted into the present tense, Williams looked in disbelief at the E350's vanity plate:

MISUKT.

Yes, they miss their friend KT out here, at the fields and in the scouts' seats and under that beautiful blue sky separating us from baseball heaven. They're still processing their pain, still swapping their stories, still remembering the lessons Towers, who passed away on Jan. 30 at the age of 56 after a long battle with thyroid cancer, taught them through the resolute way he lived and died.

Wednesday brought an opportunity to celebrate that life as a community, with the D-backs -- for whom Towers served as general manager from 2010 to 2014 -- and the Reds, for whom he was a special assistant from 2014 until his passing, hosting an industry gathering at Salt River Fields.

It was intended as an opportunity for those who weren't able to attend a larger public memorial at San Diego's Petco Park last month to honor Towers' memory. But there were quite a few repeat attendees -- such as Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein -- because Towers left behind too many tales and too many fond feelings for the love to be limited to a single setting.

"Everyone feels like they were one of KT's best friends," Epstein said. "One thing I've learned since he got ill is that he had hundreds and hundreds of best friends. That's a great testament to him."

Epstein joined Williams, D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals executive advisor Walt Jocketty and D-backs special assistant Craig Shipley in a touching panel discussion, hosted by D-backs radio voice Greg Schulte, about Towers' impact, influence and individuality. With Towers' widow, Kelley, in attendance, the D-backs also used the night as an opportunity to announce that they will be wearing a "KT" patch on their uniforms on Aug. 2, the same night they will celebrate the 2011 National League West champion squad that Towers constructed during his time as Arizona GM.

D-backs to wear patch in honor of Towers

And when it comes to lasting impressions, Arizona is renaming the Chase Field suite where Towers sat during games "Kevin's Tower" during a dedication ceremony on April 20 and will create the Kevin Towers Pro Scouting Award, to be given annually to a D-backs pro scout who exemplifies KT's characteristics.

But as Goldschmidt noted, Towers won't be remembered by those who knew him best for sitting up in "Kevin's Tower." He'll be remembered for the down-to-earth way he approached his job and the way he ingrained himself with and supported his players.

"KT was always giving his players confidence," Goldschmidt said. "He wasn't the guy behind the tunnel watching you hit, making comments when you roll over balls. He was the guy who, after a bad game, would put his arm around you and say, 'Hey, you're going to be back in the lineup tomorrow. We have confidence in you, we're not sending you down.' That confidence at a young age went a long way for me."

Video: Justice, Castrovince on passing of Kevin Towers

For Goldschmidt, Towers infused not just a sense of confidence but also bravery. He remembered the offseason he and his wife were going on an Australian vacation. Towers, who had once swam with sharks on his tour of the continent, told Goldschmidt to take the opportunity to "go do something crazy." So when the Goldschmidts found a place to go bungee jumping, he went for it, despite his wife's concerns that he might get hurt and jeopardize his career.

After all, his boss had already approved it.

"He enjoyed life every day to the fullest," Goldschmidt said.

Competitive though he was, Towers could even find fun in the middle of defeat. Speaking of Australia, the D-backs traveled there in 2011 for a season-opening series against the Dodgers. But first they played an exhibition against Team Australia in which they were shockingly trounced, 5-0. As Shipley recalled, after the game, Towers put on the Australia jersey bearing his name that had been presented to him by the Australian Baseball Federation and went into Team Australia's clubhouse to pop open a beer and salute them. Later, Towers, still wearing the jersey, went to the hotel bar, where some Aussies were celebrating the big win, and he blended right in.

"Did you go to the game?" the locals asked Towers, having no idea who he was.

"Yeah, I went!" he said, pretending even he didn't know who he was. "It was awesome!"

Ah, but don't let that story deceive you. Towers always wanted what was best for his teams. Jocketty remembered the time his Cardinals were nearing the playoffs in 2000 and catcher Mike Matheny was injured. He needed a backstop in the worst way, and Towers, then GM of the Padres, called him to offer Carlos Hernandez.

"Who do you want for him?" Jocketty asked.

"You got this kid in 'A' ball," Towers said. "I think his name is Albert Pully-ohs."

All these years later, Jocketty swears there was never a chance he was about to give up Albert Pujols for some short-term catching solution. But that never stopped Towers from spinning the story in his powwows with pals.

"I almost got Pujols from Jocketty!" he'd tell them. "I was this close to getting Pujols!"

This was the man they came to celebrate, the man they think about often as a new season somehow dawns without him. Epstein said Towers had a way of "squeezing every bit of love and spirit out of life as you possibly could," and the assortment of executives, coaches, scouts, etc., who showed up on Wednesday to remember him was evidence that he succeeded.

"Man," Williams said, choking back tears and summing up the feelings of many, "I miss this guy."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.