|JOE KENNEDY He was 28|
TAMPA - Joe Kennedy, a journeyman lefthander who pitched for three major league teams last season, died at his in-laws' home yesterday. He was 28.
After going to bed early, Kennedy woke up at about 1:15 a.m. and collapsed as he was leaving a bedroom at the home of his wife's parents, Hillsborough County sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue took Kennedy to Brandon Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, she said.
"We were terribly shocked," Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey said. "From what we understand he was in Brandon . . . to be the best man at a wedding [yesterday]."
Godfrey didn't have particulars on the cause of death.
"Obviously, when a 28-year-old man dies, ballplayer or not, it's a terrible, terrible thing," he said.
Kennedy spent seven years in the majors, playing last season with Oakland, Arizona, and Toronto. He also spent time with Tampa Bay and Colorado and had a 43-61 career record with a 4.79 ERA in 222 appearances.
"He was such a focused kid from the time we took him in the draft," said Florida Marlins vice president Dan Jennings, who was the scouting director for Tampa Bay when the Rays selected Kennedy in the 1998 draft. "He was on a mission to become a major league pitcher."
Kennedy made his major league debut in June 2001 and made his last appearance in relief Sept. 29 in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay.
"You think all athletes and all young people are invincible," Jennings said. "Then when you see something like this, it's very tragic."
Craig Weissmann, the Tampa Bay scout who signed Kennedy, described him as a fierce, determined competitor.
"He really dedicated himself and was really on a mission to become a major league pitcher," Weissmann said. "You wish as a scout and a major league organization, you wish every kid could develop that fast."
Godfrey said Toronto was interested in bringing Kennedy back. "We had every intention to speak to him," he said.
Kennedy's agent, Damon Lapa, did not return phone calls and an e-mail from the AP.
"He was a valued teammate and friend to everyone with the A's organization," Oakland assistant general manager David Forst said in a statement.
Kennedy started the 2007 season with Oakland as a starter but was moved to the bullpen after going 3-9 with a 4.37 ERA. He appeared in 27 games, including 16 starts, before being placed on waivers. Claimed by Arizona in August, he was released that month after just three appearances. The Blue Jays signed him Aug. 29, and Kennedy got his first win as a Blue Jay on Sept. 21, in New York against the Yankees.
Kennedy and his family still lived in the Denver area, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton told the Denver Post. "It's a sad day and a sad situation," he said. "He's leaving a wife and a little boy behind."
Said Weissmann, "He was a great father. He loved that boy and his wife both more than anything in the world. That son of his was the apple of his eye."