R.I.P., Kevin Foster

Former Cub pitcher Kevin Foster died over the weekend after losing a six-month battle with cancer. He was 39.

With a career ERA in the upper 4's and a middling won-loss record, Foster hardly stands out from the many forgettable Cub pitchers who populated the roster between 1994 and '98. ('"Jim Bullinger,'" anyone? Do I hear a "Willie Banks" or a "Rodney Myers"?)

Foster was different in at least one respect from the others, however. He was a local kid, who attended Evanston High School and grew up a Cubs fan.

Here's a clip from the game story written by Joey Reaves in the Tribune following Foster's Wrigley Field debut in June of '94. It describes an all-too familiar scenarioโ€”there's a storybook game in progress, and then the Cubs do what the Cubs do.

Rarely was a loss more fitting, more an absolutely perfect embodiment of a team, its fans and their frustrated history than Friday afternoon when hometown rookie Kevin Foster made his debut with the Chicago Cubs.

Foster, a baby-faced beanpole of a pitcher, held the Montreal Expos-the team with the second-best record in the National League-to three hits in seven innings and left with a 1-0 lead and the wind blowing in protectively off Lake Michigan at 12 m.p.h.

Neither the wind, though, nor the Cubs' bullpen were anywhere close to strong enough to hold back the inevitable. The Cubs turned another storybook ending into a fractured fairy tale.

Actually, it was Randy Milligan who did it. He crushed a two-run homer into and through the breeze with two outs in the eighth inning to put things back into perspective.

Chuck Crim (2-1) served up the home run and got the loss. But if it hadn't been him, it would have been someone else. Crim just happened to be on duty.

"It was a lifelong dream just to be out there," said Foster, a 1987 graduate of Evanston Township High School. "I tried to block everything out and do my job.

"I'm not going to celebrate, but it wasn't a heartbreak. Things like that happen, and you've just got to come back out there tomorrow and do your job again."

Ah, spoken like a true Cubbie...Foster was born a Cub fan. And born the perfect year: 1969...

What Foster wasn't when he was born, or even when he became a professional baseball player, was a pitcher. He started his pro career as a third baseman in, of all places, the Montreal Expos organization.

Felipe Alou, now manager of the Expos, was managing at West Palm Beach in the Florida State League in 1990 when Foster was hitting .167 and facing the real possibility of looking for a new line of work.

Alou suggested Foster try pitching, and...four years later...Alou was watching in awe as Foster mowed down his hitters.

(Foster) sailed harmlessly through the seventh inning when manager Tom Trebelhorn lifted him for a pinch-hitter...

That part of the strategy worked perfectly. It was the rest that failed when Trebelhorn went through three pitchers in a failed attempt to get through the eighth...

It was all too perfect.

"I don't know," said Foster. "I've seen the Cubs lose a lot of games. But I've seen them win a lot, too."

As a Cub, Foster went 32-28, and his best day in blue pinstripes was probably this one, when he and Randy Myers combined to shut out the Mets, and for a day, Foster was even better than Bret Saberhagen.

Comments

I'm adding a comment because I want to mark his passing and honor him. He lived the fantasy that most of us have had and now is gone far too soon. Between the fact that he died at 39 of cancer and grew up as a Cubs fan, I feel a greater sadness than I expected. I suppose it also has something to do with the fact that he came so far and had the talent to start 83 major league games over 5 years with a 32-30 record but probably fell short of the kind of success and career longevity he wanted for himself. I'm sure he probably saw a longer life for himself also. There's a poignancy to his story that touches me.

Kevin Foster and Jeremi Gonzalez. 2/5ths of the 97 Cubs rotation up in heaven. RIP

I met him when he was with St Paul team in 2002 or 2003.

He was warming up to play against Joliet team and there was no name on his jersey and I said to myself "is that Kevin Foster?"

I went down when he was done warming up and I asked if he was Kevin Foster and he said yeah.

I thanked him for pitching for the Cubs and I hoped he made it back to the bigs.

He said thanks and was looking to forward to getting back. Real nice guy.

God bless his soul.

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