MILWAUKEE (AP) -Although life might never be quite the same for the St. Louis Cardinals after Josh Hancock's fatal accident, there were a few hints at a return to normalcy before their game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night.
Cardinals players lounged in the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park, reading the newspaper, watching a soccer match on a big-screen television and playing cards - just like they might on any other day of the baseball season.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa acknowledged that the atmosphere felt ``a little more normal'' than it did on Monday, the team's first day back to baseball after Hancock died early Sunday morning in St. Louis.
But La Russa's past experience with the death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile in 2002 warns him that the feeling doesn't always last.
``I mean, it's going to be that way unless something reminds you of Josh,'' La Russa said. ``That's the experience we had a few years ago. Something hits you, and all of a sudden, you remember and you have to go backwards a minute and come back. That's why it's a tough process.''
It was a far less tense atmosphere than on Monday, when La Russa closed the Cardinals' clubhouse to the media before the game and tensely warned reporters that he was looking out for signs of ``insincerity'' from them.
With Hancock's jersey hanging in the Cardinals' dugout and bullpen, and each player wearing a memorial No. 32 patch on his sleeve, St. Louis then struggled in a 7-1 loss to the Brewers Monday night. Outfielder Scott Spiezio couldn't muster the emotional strength to play and was scratched from the lineup.
La Russa said Tuesday that only ``time and toughness'' would help his team heal, but he refused to use Hancock's death as an excuse for what he called their ``fuzzy'' performance on Monday. After all, the World Champions weren't playing particularly well even before they lost their teammate.
``We didn't get beat yesterday because we were distracted,'' La Russa said. ``I think we handled it. We just played like we've playing - which is not very good.''
Hancock was driving a rented Ford Explorer early Sunday when it slammed into a flatbed tow truck on Interstate 64 in St. Louis. La Russa declined comment on various media reports that attempted to retrace Hancock's actions in the days and hours leading up to his accident.
``I'm into sports reporting,'' La Russa said. ``I'm not into investigative reporting.''
Hancock was involved in another early morning accident three days before he was killed, as the front of his sport utility vehicle was clipped by a tractor-trailer in Sauget, Ill., a village known for its factories and strip clubs. Police Chief Patrick Delaney said Tuesday that Hancock did not appear under the influence of alcohol and no sobriety or breath tests were issued.
While the search for answers continues - autopsy results had not been released, and toxicology tests were pending - former Cardinals pitcher Cal Eldred said players must accept the idea that there may never be an explanation for Hancock's death that will put their minds at ease.
``Sometimes there's just not answers, and you've just got to go on,'' said Eldred, who came to Milwaukee to help counsel grieving players this week.
Eldred is a special assistant to the Cardinals' management, and also works with Unlimited Potential Inc., a baseball-based Christian ministry in Warsaw, Ind.
Eldred said he is encouraged to see life getting back to normal for players.
``You have to move on,'' Eldred said. ``You have to keep going. You don't forget. You don't forget any of that stuff. You shouldn't, because you learn from that. But yeah, I think that's a healthy thing.''
---
Associated Press Writer Jim Suhr contributed to this report from Sauget, Ill.
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