Joe Kennedy article
The days crawl by. Jami Dawn Kennedy tries to will her way through
them, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. What other
option is there? Smile a fake smile. Grin a fake grin. Put on a
strong front for anyone outside of her tight circle of family
members and friends.
"How are you holding up?" they ask.
"Oh, fine," the widow says.
"Is there anything we can do for you?" they ask.
"No, thank you," the widow says.
Actually, there is something they can do for her -- a small gesture,
in lieu of flowers or whatever it is one sends a 26-year-old
pregnant widow who lost her husband a mere four months ago. "They,"
she says, "can try and remember Joe."
That's all she asks for, and, quite frankly, it's the least they --
you -- can do. Remember Joe Kennedy, the journeyman left-hander who
went 43-61 during a five-team, seven-year major league career.
Remember Joe Kennedy, the teammate who rooted for his colleagues
with uncommon vigor. Remember Joe Kennedy, the boy who grew up poor
in a San Diego County trailer and willed himself to succeed.
Remember Joe Kennedy, the man who loved picking up his infant son
Kaige (now 16 months old) and twirling him like a baton as the boy
giggled himself silly. Remember Joe Kennedy, the husband who cried
uncontrollably while proposing to Jami some 4½ years ago. Remember
Joe Kennedy, who on the night of Nov. 23, 2007, died of hypertensive
heart disease at the age of 28.
Remember Joe Kennedy.
Please, remember him.
That has become Jami's mission -- the purpose of her life since
losing the purpose of her life. Inside the Denver home she shared
with Joe, there are photographs upon photographs. Joe as a baby. Joe
in a baseball uniform. Joe and Jami on vacation. Joe with his little
Kennedy came up with Tampa Bay in 2001. And that's where he met Jami.
"Kaige will come in, see Joe's pictures and say, 'Dah-dah, Dah-
dah,'" says Jami, sobbing between words. "I don't know what he
remembers and what he doesn't, but I think he wonders where Joe is."
How in the world is she supposed to do this? To go on, alone? Heck,
the boy looks exactly like his father, from his facial expressions
to his hair to his belly to his gestures. "I saw Kaige's face light
up whenever Joe entered the room," she says. "Absolutely light up."
Joe Kennedy was a 6-foot-4, 225-pound teddy bear of a man who seemed
destined to pitch for a few more years, then retire to enjoy a
lifetime of marriage, fatherhood and golf. He seemed destined to
coach a Little League team; take memorable vacations with close pals
like Frank Thomas and Todd Helton; father two more kids, maybe even
He and Jami had their days mapped out; a beautiful, blissful journey.
Their marriage would last, because neither believed in divorce and
neither could imagine life without the other. They would grow old
together. Spoil grandchildren ... great-grandchildren. "We always
laughed," Jami says. "At the end of the day you're with your best
friend. That's what Joe is to me -- my best friend."
She still does this -- the present tense. It's one hell of a habit
to break, especially in the late days of March. This was Joe's
favorite time of year -- the warm sun, the green grass, the optimism
of a new 162-game season.
Jami can't help but feel -- literally feel -- Joe preparing for the
upcoming season, hoping this would be the year he'd finally break
through and capitalize on the promise that made Tampa Bay select him
with its eighth-round pick in the 1998 amateur draft. Though he was
often guarded with strangers, inside Joe was actually an optimist.
With this adjustment, or a trade to that team, he could win 15
games, maybe even 18. "He felt this season would be the one where he
finally fulfilled his promise," Jami says. "He really felt it."
When Kennedy was traded to Colorado, he realized he couldn't live
without Jami anymore.
It's noteworthy to hear Jami Kennedy speak in this manner, because
the woman Joe fell for -- the one with the angelic smile and the
Oreo-sized dimples -- once barely acknowledged baseball as a sport.
("I once argued with my mom until I was blue in the face that there
was no such thing as a second baseman," she says, managing a quick
chuckle. "Because nobody stands on second base.") She was a mass
communications major at the University of South Florida back in 2003
when a mutual friend insisted she meet his pal who played for the
Devil Rays. "I had no interest in being set up," she
says. "Especially with a ballplayer."
So, without her knowing, the friend invited Jami and Joe to the
Martini Bar in Tampa, Fla. "Joe opened the door when I walked in,
and I thought, 'Oh, he's cute,'" she says. "But I didn't know he was
the guy I'd been told about." When Jami asked Joe to direct her to
the bathroom, he advised her that the Martini Bar lacked a ladies
room, but he could gladly escort her to the port-a-potty out back.
It was her first taste of Joe's kindling-dry sense of humor. "I was
like, 'What's with this guy?' and I punched him in the arm," she
says. "An hour into the night I finally realized this was the man I
was supposed to meet."
From that moment until last Nov. 23, Joe and Jami never went a day
without talking. Corniness be damned, it was love at its most
authentic. She loved the way he held her; the way he could always
make her laugh. He loved the way she thought -- really, truly
thought -- he was the best ballplayer on the planet. "I'd give him
these pep talks," she says, "and Joe would just crack up."
Back on Dec. 14, 2003, Joe was crestfallen to learn that the Devil
Rays had traded him to the Colorado Rockies. Shortly after hearing
the news, he arrived at Jami's doorstep, sobbing.
"Why are you crying?" she asked.
"Because I was traded," he answered.
"Wow," she said dryly. "Now who's gonna do your laundry?"
With that, Joe lowered himself to one knee and grabbed Jami's hand.
Eight weeks later, on Jan. 31, 2004, they were married at the Rusty
Pelican in Tampa. Before 130 people, with Tim McGraw's "My Best
Friend" playing in the background, they had their first dance as a
"It was the best day of my life," she says. "I just celebrated our
four-year anniversary, and ..."
Kennedy was with Oakland for much of the 2007 season. No one thought
it would be his last one.
In order to maintain some semblance of normalcy, Jami has spent
portions of these past few months in Florida and Arizona, staying
with Frank and Megan Thomas near the Blue Jays' camp in Dunedin,
Fla., and with Todd and Christy Helton at the Rockies' camp in
Tucson, Ariz. Though no positives accompany this story, the
aftermath of Joe's passing has afforded Jami time to appreciate the
family she made through baseball. On the day Joe died, Frank and
Megan rushed to Florida to be by Jami's side. They went to the
hospital with her, and helped make the funeral arrangements with
her. "It was the least we could do," says Frank. "Joe was one of my
"Because of Christy and Todd and Frank and Megan, I feel like I
might make it," Jami says. "They don't treat me like a widow. They
treat me like a person. When something like this happens, people
look at you like you have a disease. Well, I don't have a disease.
I'm just hurting."
The pain isn't likely to disappear anytime soon. On Monday, Jami and
Kaige will return to Coors Field -- the stadium Joe called home for
1½ years -- to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. Then,
approximately two months later, she is scheduled to give birth to a
baby girl at Denver's Rose Medical Center.
With Joe gone, Jami plans on packing the delivery room with every
friend and family member -- male or female -- she can find. "It'll
be so incredibly bittersweet," she says. "I love that I'm carrying
his baby, that a part of Joe is alive in me. But I just hope during
delivery that I feel him there with me. I need to feel him with me."
Another cry. Another pause. Deep breaths. Deep, painful breaths.
"No matter what," she says, "I'm naming the baby Joe. That way, I
can look forward to the day when I yell his name again and have
someone answer it.
"That way, he lives on."