For 16 years, Darrel Akerfelds was a member of the Padres organization. Well, maybe more than that. "Ak," as he was known, brought heart, soul, levity and motivation. Whatever was needed, he delivered.
On Sunday, Akerfelds died of pancreatic cancer. He was 50 years old.
Akerfelds was diagnosed in December of 2010, but even while undergoing chemotherapy, he kept coming to work as the Padres bullpen coach, a job he's had since 2001.
"Ak was an invaluable member of the Padres coaching staff," said manager Bud Black. "He brought a tireless work ethic and compassion for baseball to the ballpark every day. He was a loyal Padre to the end. Players and coaches were made better by Ak. He will be sorely missed, and what he brought to this organization will never be forgotten."
During his 10 years as bullpen coach, the Padres pitching staff had a 3.66 ERA, the 2nd-best mark in baseball over that span.
We often find ways to relate sports to real life. Most of the time it's a stretch to find a great story. However, it's got to be more than a coincidence that on Sunday, the Padres carried Ak's number 48 jersey to the bullpen and held a moment of silence before their game with the Mariners.
Then Edinson Volquez, Joe Thatcher, Luke Gregerson and Huston Street shut out Seattle 2-0.
It was a fitting outcome, and the perfect way to honor Ak.
"For all of us who've known him a long time," said Black, "it was special."