TUPELO, Miss. - St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Randy Flores will miss playing catch with Josh Hancock.

"Every day, I was reminded of his heart," Flores said yesterday at a public memorial for his fellow reliever. "Josh loved being a baseball player."

The Cardinals were among an estimated 500 mourners for Hancock, who died at 29 in an automobile accident early Sunday. Flores was the only teammate who spoke at the service, and he recalled Hancock's playful nature.

Organizers had expected three or four Cardinals to participate, including manager Tony La Russa. They also anticipated that several players would speak after the service. Instead, on the advice of centerfielder Jim Edmonds, the traveling party of 50 filed onto two buses behind the church and left immediately without talking to the media.

Hancock, who pitched for the Phillies in 2003 and '04, was driving a rented Ford Explorer early Sunday when it crashed into a flatbed tow truck on a highway in St. Louis. Autopsy results have not been released, and toxicology tests were pending.

Hancock's sister, Katie, a star athlete at Tupelo High School, called him a "great guy, a great man and a great big brother."

She remembered the time her big brother took her horseback riding, but instead saddled her on a cow. She imitated his laugh, recalling the prank.

Hancock's agent, the scout who signed him to his first pro contract and a high school coach all related memories in a mostly uplifting hourlong service.

Hancock's father, Dean Hancock, wore a red ribbon with the No. 32 - his son's uniform number - on his left lapel as he read a statement before the service. He took no questions, thanking the media for "respecting our privacy and for respecting Josh's honor."

"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," Hancock said. "Josh was so proud to be a member of that family."

During his sermon, the Rev. John Sudduth held a prized possession, a ball autographed by Hancock after signing his first pro contract with Boston in 1997.

Hancock was buried Wednesday in rural Itawamba County. *