Monday, October 27, 2014

RIP Oscar Taveras

Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras, 22, killed in auto accident
Francisco Taveras must have known from early on that his son Oscar, 2nd of his 8 children with wife Marisela, was going to be something special on a baseball diamond.

After all, Francisco had first-hand knowledge of what it took to make it in the game. He himself had been a prospect once, reaching the AAA level in the Milwaukee Brewers organization back in the 1980's.

Francisco, who taught Oscar the game that he himself loved, and Marisela surely watched with pride as Oscar not only competed in baseball, but as he excelled at it. Over the last few years it became apparent to everyone that Oscar was not only likely to match, but would most certainly exceed his father's accomplishments in the game.

That's what every parent hopes for, of course. That our children will grow to make more of themselves than we have, to succeed and make their mark on the world. To enjoy success and happiness and achievement. At the age of 22, Oscar Taveras could say that he had all of those things. His parents had to be very proud indeed.

Oscar would indeed surpass his father's achievements in the game. Signing for $145,000 with the Saint Louis Cardinals organization as a 16-year old in November of 2008, he quickly rose to become one of the top prospects in the game. Entering the 2014 season, Taveras was considered one of the consensus top 3 prospects in all of baseball.

Taveras finally got his call up to the big leagues this past May 30th at just age 21. The following day, in just his 2nd at-bat with the Cardinals, Taveras launched a homerun, announcing his presence with authority.

Still, as many youngsters, Taveras struggled in his first exposure to major league pitching. He was sent back down to the minors in the middle of the month, but was then recalled once again on June 30th, this time to stay. He played part-time for the rest of the season as the Cards won the N.L. Central Division crown, and was named to their postseason roster.

In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants, Taveras was called on by manager Mike Matheny to pinch-hit. It was an important situation, as the Cards trailed the Giants 1-0 in the series, and were down 3-2 in the bottom of the 7th here.

Taveras and the Cardinals celebrate his game-tying NLCS homerun


Oscar Taveras stepped to the plate in the rain against veteran pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, and delivered like a veteran. He crushed a game-tying homerun just inside the rightfield foul pole. The blast inspired the Cardinals to victory, tying the NLCS at a game apiece.

It would end up being the only game that Saint Louis would win, as the Giants took the NLCS 4-1. In total, Oscar received 7 at-bats in the postseason, all as a pinch-hitter, and went 3-7 with a pair of runs scored. He got to play right field briefly in the Game 5 finale of that NLCS. It was a disappointing end for the team, but appeared to be just the beginning of a promising career that would yield many more opportunities for playoff heroics from the now 22-year old.

And then, this weekend, unspeakable tragedy struck. Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend, 18-year old Edilia Jamali Arvelo, were killed in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic. His Cardinals-red Chevy Camaro somehow veered off wet roads as they were driving to his hometown of Puerto Plata. Those at the scene reported that the front end was heavily damaged.

It's too soon to know exactly what caused the accident. Any speculation about their ages and the sports car vehicle would be irresponsible. What is definitely not speculative is the nature of the roads in the D.R., which are notoriously deficient. Another Dominican native, future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, stated this morning in response to the accident: "To all the authorities in my country: please, please do something about the highways."

Outgoing Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig spoke for everyone involved in the game in part of his statement following the announcement of the news: "Oscar, a young member of the baseball family, was full of promise and at the dawn of a wonderful career in our game, evident in his game-tying homerun against the Giants exactly two weeks ago."

Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelo

Now, all we have left is the memory of another brief, bright shining star taken far too soon. Baseball is game. Those of us who love it understand that, but we sometimes take it too seriously. Every once in awhile, real life steps in like this and reminds of that fact.

Oscar Taveras got to enjoy life in Major League Baseball, which will, in the end, be only a dream never realized for many millions around the world who play and share that dream. The record books will show that he appeared in exactly 80 games with the Cardinals, hitting .239 with 3 homers, 22 rbi, and 18 runs scored. He played 62 games in right field, 3 in center field, and made the rest of his appearances as a pinch-hitter.

But those are only his major league numbers. In the minor leagues, where he was almost always at least a couple of years younger than the league average age for his level, Taveras excelled. He batted .320 and drove in 324 runs across parts of his age 17-22 seasons, and consistently showed that he was going to be one of the game's best hitters in the years to come. Now that is all we have left, his dream, ended just as it was beginning.

Now families will grieve. Most importantly, the families of these young people taken far too soon. But also the larger family of baseball, of which we who love it are all a part. We grieve the loss of one of our own in Oscar Taveras. May God bless his family, friends, and teammates during this difficult team. And may God rest the souls of these youngsters in His loving embrace.

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