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Phillies recall friend's passions

Phillies recall friend's passions

PHILADELPHIA -- Mention the word "flying" to Cory Lidle and he would instantly smile.

"Being in an airplane is an amazing feeling," he said in Spring Training and many times this season. "It doesn't matter what's going on in your life, when you go up in the air, everything's gone. It's just something that takes you away."

In the end, being in a plane took Lidle's life. The 34-year-old pitcher died Wednesday when his single-engine Cirrus SR20 crashed into a 50-story building on Manhattan's Upper East Side, 15 minutes after taking off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. His flight instructor was also killed. Lidle's wife Melanie and 6-year-old son Christopher were returning to California on a commercial flight.

Though Lidle was traded from Philadelphia to the Yankees at the July 31 trading deadline, his death shook members of the Phillies team, many of whom played with him over the course of the past three seasons.

"It makes me feel numb," said Randy Wolf, who played in Lidle's charity poker tournament over the past two offseasons. "Cory was an even better person than he was a pitcher and I hope that's how he's remembered. I feel fortunate that I got to know Cory, first as a teammate and then as a friend."

"This is unthinkable that something he became so involved in could have this tragic result," team president David Montgomery said. "The Phillies family is extremely saddened by the tragic news involving Cory Lidle. Our thoughts and prayers are extended to his wife Melanie, son Christopher and those families who were affected by the terrible incident in New York."

Flying was still new to Lidle, who had logged 400 hours since getting his pilot's license in the offseason, and he attacked it with the same vigor and drive as he would an opposing hitter. Flying magazines often spilled out of his locker at Citizens Bank Park and conversations frequently started and ended with his latest air adventures.

When he purchased his four-seater Cirrus for $187,000 in June, he kept it on the computer and showed it to every teammate who walked by.

"He was very passionate about flying," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He talked about it all the time. He treated it like pitching. He had a game plan, and was always well prepared. His flight plans were always thought out. He was constantly studying it. This is a horrible situation."

"He was," began Phillies broadcaster Scott Graham, before choking up. "I can't believe I'm saying was. The same precision in which he pitched was the same precision in which he played golf, and I imagine the same precision he attacked learning how to fly. He went through a lot to become a Major League pitcher and I don't think that's something he ever forgot. He never thought anything was guaranteed or was going to be handed to him. That part of him never went away."

Neither did the part of Lidle who understood the responsibilities of being a Major League player. Always available, Lidle never minded allowing others into his life, and he'd talk about anything.

Cory Lidle: 1972-2006

His other passions were baseball, golf and poker. Whenever his son ran around the clubhouse, the two had a routine.

"What's your favorite hand in poker?" Lidle would ask.

"Pocket Aces," Christopher Lidle quickly replied, to his father's pleasure.

Because of his willingness to cooperate with the media, Lidle sometimes got himself into trouble, but that never stopped him from being accountable, affable and forthright. He simply didn't mind stating his opinion.

"He was a broadcaster's dream because he was one of those guys who if you needed him, you could always go to him," announcer Chris Wheeler said on Comcast SportsNet. "He was a nice guy to be around in the couple of years he was with us."

The joy of flying a plane oozed from Lidle every time the subject came up. He spoke in July of his interest to pitch on the West Coast, and how convenient it would be to fly around to various cities in California. Despite the obvious thrill-seeking implications, Lidle took to the air as a way of bringing him closer to his family. Once Christopher got old enough, Lidle hoped to take him up more often.

"It's almost like when you're 16 getting your license, you can go to the mall whenever you want," Lidle said, in July. "This is pretty much that same feeling, maybe times 100 because you go just about anywhere you want. To be up in the air looking down on the ground is a pretty cool feeling. I love being in a plane and looking down and seeing traffic on the freeway."

"I'll always remember Cory as a loving father first and a great teammate second," said Shane Victorino, who lockered near Lidle. "He was a soft-spoken and humble guy who was always there for his teammates, especially the younger players."

On the field, Lidle was a cerebral pitcher. He wasn't blessed with a 96-mph fastball, or a devastating curveball. He attacked hitters' weaknesses, because he knew he couldn't blow anything by anyone. Coming up with a game plan was paramount, and that often drew admiration from his coaches.

"Absolutely," Dubee said. "There are a lot of pitchers out there with better fastballs, better curveballs and better changeups, but he learned how to use all of his repertoire to the best of his ability."

One of Lidle's season highlights came on June 20. He faced the Yankees that day, and allowed a homer to his former high-school teammate, Jason Giambi. The team's loss and Lidle's individual performance didn't matter. He was thrilled because Jim Bastion -- who coached both for South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif. -- was there to see it, and was proud of both of them.

In describing a perfect day with his new hobby, Lidle always offered what now seems like a cryptic response.

"Stick the landing, walk away and it's a good day," he said.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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