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Cardinals pay respects to fallen friend

Cardinals pay respects to fallen friend

TUPELO, Miss. -- Josh Hancock's sister, Katie, may have said it best -- somewhere, Josh is probably still laughing.

Then again, that was his favorite thing to do. Whether it was at his younger sister, his teammates or his parents, Hancock was a laugher. And he loved to make other people laugh with him.

That was one the many messages conveyed to hundreds in attendance at First United Methodist Church in Tupelo, Miss., where nearly an hour-long memorial service took place to remember the life of the Cardinals pitcher who was killed in an auto accident in St. Louis on Sunday.

Hancock was remembered as a funny, easygoing, loyal teammate, friend and family member.

Each person that spoke at the service talked about Hancock's fun personality and shared stories of him from all ages of his life. One thing that was common, no matter who was speaking, was Hancock's deep-voiced giggle that could bring a smile to just about anyone's face.

Cardinals pitcher Randy Flores spoke on behalf of the team and shared some insight as to what type of guy Hancock was on the road, in the clubhouse and on the field. Flores shared a few stories and talked about how Hancock was his throwing partner on the team, and how the two of them had thrown to each other every day from Spring Training 2006 until the day before Hancock passed.

Hancock routinely gave Flores a hard time on his throwing motion and used to tell Flores he looked more like a toddler than a grown man. Flores once asked if Hancock was mad at him, to which the reliever had an answer that Flores will never forget.

"He used to say, 'Oh Flo, you're too bad to be mad at. Let's do it again tomorrow,'" Flores said. "He loved what he did. He loved being a baseball player. He loved this team. One of the great things about being a ballplayer is you can act like a kid."

Flores also talked about a moment he shared with Hancock's family before the service. The family and members of the Cardinals looked at a photo from last season's World Series celebration, with most of the members already in a dogpile celebrating the win, Hancock was one of the last players to join his teammates, running with his arms in the air and a huge smile on his face.

"That's something I'll remember for the rest of my life," Flores said.

Katie Hancock spoke as well and also had numerous funny stories to share with the audience. She talked about how, when the two were younger, she wanted to ride a horse after Josh had earlier in the day. He said OK, and told her he had a perfect horse.

The fun-loving guy he was, Josh came back with a baby calf and put his younger sister on it, gave it a tap and off they went.

Josh Hancock, 1978-2007

Katie Hancock talked about all the lessons her older brother taught people throughout his life.

"He taught us how to follow our dreams," Katie Hancock said. "He taught my dad to be a best friend. He was a great man."

Others that spoke included one of Hancock's high school coaches, Cas McWaters, his agent, Bo McKinnis, and the scout that signed Hancock to his first professional contract with the Red Sox, Joe Mason.

Mason, who is currently a scout with the Brewers, said Hancock would have been Dizzy Dean's right-hand man in the Gas House Gang because he was such a fun guy.

"He tried to make people laugh and fit in no matter what level they were in," Mason said. "He was always doing something for someone else. Every day was a good day for him."

All of the speakers mentioned how Hancock always talked about how proud he was of Katie and his brother, Jon-Jon.

Hancock's father, Dean, met with members of the media before the service and talked about how much Hancock loved playing for the Cardinals. The elder Hancock wore a red ribbon on his suit jacket pinned across a mini Cardinals jersey with Hancock's No. 32.

"Professional baseball players are brothers within a family, and the St. Louis Cardinals players and coaches are bonded together, in my opinion, like no other family in baseball," Dean Hancock said. "Josh was so proud to be a part of that family."

The Cardinals charted a plane and arrived at the church shortly after 1 p.m. CT. No member from the team spoke to the media before or after the service. General manager Walt Jocketty and other members of the front office were also in attendance.

Hancock was in his second season with St. Louis and had posted a career record of 9-7 in seven Major League seasons. He made 70 appearances with the Cardinals.

The right-handed reliever was a part of the Cardinals' run to the World Series and pitched 77 innings in the 2006 championship season. This season, Hancock had made eight appearances and pitched 12 2/3 innings.

Hancock was laid to rest on Wednesday outside Marietta, Miss., in Itawamba County in a private funeral for family and close friends.

"Normally, most families in our situation would be grieving anonymously, supported by family and friends within their communities," Dean Hancock said. "But Josh belonged to a much larger community. It is our good fortune to be getting strength from prayers, thoughts and encouragement, not only from our friends and family here, but from people throughout the nation.

"We have received so many calls and notes from total strangers telling us something wonderful about Josh. He was a great son, friend and teammate."

Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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