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Ex-Ray Joe Kennedy dies




Kennedy's high point with the Rays may have been a 1-0 complete-game win at Seattle in 2002.  [AP photo]

Former Rays pitcher Joe Kennedy died on Friday of undetermined causes during a visit to the Tampa Bay area for a wedding.

Agent Damon Lapa told the cause of death was likely a heart attack or brain aneurysm.

Kennedy was staying with his wife's family in Lithia and collapsed early Friday morning.

According to Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter, Kennedy was not feeling well Thursday night and went to bed early, then awoke at about 1:15 a.m. and collapsed as he tried to leave the bedroom. Fire rescue personnel responded and found him unresponsive, and he was transported to Brandon Regional Hospital where he was pronounced dead of what Carter said were natural causes.

Word spread quickly among Rays officials and alumni.

"I can't believe we're talking about this,'' said former Rays star Aubrey Huff, who had dinner with Kennedy on Tuesday.  "It's very troubling. It's got to be heart-wrenching for his wife and new baby.
"There was never a day when he was in a bad mood. He was always happy, always full of life, always busting your chops.''

Rays minor-league operations director Mitch Lukevics said in a statement:
"We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Joe's sudden passing and extend our deepest sympathies to his family.  Joe made all of us very proud as we watched him transform from a young pitching prospect in 1998 into our Opening Day starter in a very short time."

"There are no words to describe this,'' former Rays scouting director Dan Jennings told "It's very, very tragic.''

Kennedy lived in Colorado during the offseason but returned to the bay area for a wedding, and was staying with his wife's family. Huff was with Kennedy Tuesday night for dinner and a bachelor party and said he seemed fine then. "Same old Joe,'' Huff said, fighting back tears.

Kennedy, 28, was 18-31 with a 4.98 ERA in three full seasons with the Rays from 2001-03. An eighth-round pick in the 1998 draft, Kennedy came up through the Rays system, making his big-league debut in 2001 and was their opening day starter in 2003. He struggled to a 3-12 record that season and the Rays traded him after the season to Colorado as part of a three-team deal that brought Mark Hendrickson to Tampa Bay.

Since leaving the Rays, Kennedy had two stints with Colorado and Oakland, and last season also pitched for Arizona and Toronto and was a free agent at the time of his death. He had a career record of 43-61, with a 4.79 earned run average. His last major-league appearance came in relief for Toronto on Sept. 29 - against the Rays.

Lapa told "The cause of death is unknown at this time. The best guess at this point is either a heart attack or a brain aneurysm. The way he died was sudden. There is no reasonable explanation for what happened.'' He said an autopsy would be performed.

Kennedy is survived by his wife and a 1-year-old son.

[Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 12:33am]


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