A Death in the Family

I awoke a little earlier than usual this morning. Checking the time on my phone, perched on the cabinet next to my bed, it read 5.20am. My alarm wasn’t due to go off until 6.30am so I prepared myself for another hour of shut-eye.

I noticed a ‘greater-than-usual’ number of notifications from the various sports apps that I have installed, and figuring there would be something interesting about Game 5 of last nights World Series I clicked on one of the links. It took couple of seconds for my eyes to adjust to the small writing on the overly luminous screen; a couple of seconds to focus on the headline that greated me via The Bleacher Report – Cards’ Oscar Taveras, 22 Dies in Car Crash

It’s now over 12 hours later and I’m still trying to process the news that accompanied that headline, still trying to get my head around the fact that a young ballplayer and number one prospect for my favourite baseball team wouldn’t be putting on his jersey and running out with the rest of his teammates next spring.

I always find it an odd feeling when trying to process the death of someone in the public eye, particularly when it’s someone whom you feel you have a connection to, however small or tenuous it might be. I didn’t know the guy – have no real reason to truly mourn his death in the same way I would someone close to me – yet for some unknown reason I still felt an oddly profound sense of loss.

Oscar Taveras died in a car crash yesterday afternoon (Sunday) in his home country of the Dominican Republic. Another passanger, identified as his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo, also died in the accident. They were 22 and 18 years old, respectively!

I’ve had the misfortune of seeing a picture of the wreckage, and to be blunt, it was a fucking mess!!

Social media exploded with the news during Game 5 of the Giants-Royals World Series and the rumours were soon verified by Major League Baseball, the St Louis Cardinals and various other sources. It was Giants’ catcher Buster Posey who perhaps summed it up best when he said “I heard about it in the fourth and had a sinking feeling in my gut. My first thought was, this game is not that important”!!

I’ve been a Cardinal fan for the last 13 years but I only became aware of Taveras a couple of years ago when I turned my baseball card collecting interests to the world of prospects. I even posted about him in February of last year – Prospect Watch: Oscar Taveras.

When a young sportsman like Taveras is taken from us far too early you will often be deluged with words like ‘potential’, ‘promising’, unrealised’… but a tragedy such as this goes far beyond sports. Something like this no longer stands as a baseball story, instead it becomes a very human story!

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny issued an incredibly moving statement this morning that better sums up anything I could ever say about the untimely death of his young outfielder –

“I was asked last night to give some words regarding the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, but I just simply couldn’t.

“First of all, it felt like a bad dream that could not be real, and when reality kicked in, my words didn’t even seem to make sense. To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement. To talk about the potential of his abilities seemed to be untimely. All I wanted to do was get the guys together and be with our baseball family. I know the hurt that comes along with buying into the brotherhood of a baseball team. That hurt is just as powerful as the joys that come with this life. Not to say it is even close to the depth of pain his true family is going through, but the pain itself is just as real. The ache is deep because the relationships were deep, and forged through time and trials.

“To the many fans who have already reached out with condolences, and to the many more who are in mourning, thank you for taking these players in, like they are one of your own. This level of care is what sets our fans apart.

“In my opinion, the word “love” is the most misused, and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes. But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does. You will be missed, Oscar.”

When I first came across the name of Oscar Taveras I promised myself that I’d follow his career as closely as I possibly could. This young man was the future of my favourite baseball team, after all.

I was excited when he made his major league debut on May 31st 2014; cheered when his first official major league hit was a home run over the right field wall at Busch Stadium off the Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit; suffered the ups and down during his rookie season as he struggled to find his stroke against the upper echelons of MLB pitching; got frustrated when he was benched for extended periods as he failed to find his feet and live up to the lofty expectations that were imposed upon him by almost everyone who had an interest in seeing what Oscar could do in baseball. I even treated myself to a wry smile as he smacked pinch-hit home run (once more against the Giants) in a 5-4 Cardinals win in Game 2 of this years NLCS. That was on October 12th 2014.

Two weeks later he was dead. That home run was the final hit of his career.

It saddens me that we’ll never get to see Oscar Taveras power the Cardinals to the World Series; it saddens me that we’ll never get to see the talent on display that made him one of the top rated prospects across the whole of baseball over the last few years; and it saddens me that baseball will no longer be graced by one of the biggest and brightest smiles in its long and storied history.

Rest In Peace

Oscar Francisco Taveras

1992-2014

Oscar-Taveras

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