When Oscar Taveras didn’t get called upon to start Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, it all but solidified the fact that the talented rookie’s role in the 2014 postseason would be reduced to pinch hitting and late-game replacements.
It wasn’t much of a surprise because, after all, it was fellow rookie outfielder Randal Grichuk who drew the confidence from manager Mike Matheny to get the start in right field every game. But if there was ever a game to start the 22-year-old phenom, it was against Giants right hander Jake Peavy.
Taveras had still not mastered catching up to fastballs in the high-90s, but he had proven he could hit righthanders, something Grichuk has struggled with in his time in the majors. Peavy tops out in the low 90s, right in Taveras’ wheelhouse.
Add in the fact that this was possibly the last home game for the Cardinals before they shipped out to San Francisco to play in an unconventional ballpark and you thought this was his best and last chance to start.
I wouldn’t have blamed Taveras for being upset. He had arguably earned a chance to start, particularly against right-handed pitchers. He may have been upset, but he didn’t show it.
Instead he waited patiently for his moment, and when he got it, he seized it.
Taveras crushed a game-tying solo home run down the right field line in the seventh inning off of Jean Machi that set up the walk-off home run by Kolten Wong. It was, remarkably, somehow more majestic than his first career home run, a towering blast into falling rain to right field off of these same Giants that was the culmination of so many years of anticipation.
It was the last at-bat Taveras took at Busch Stadium. He and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, were killed in a car accident on Sunday in the Dominican Republic.
In some ways, Taveras got to live out his dream. He made it to the Major Leagues and delivered in the biggest way. But in other ways, it’s a cruel reminder to how fickle life can be, and how each day is truly a gift from God to be thankful for.
He was just 22. She was only 18. They were just kids.
The amount of potential that will never have the chance to be reached for Taveras is immeasurable. We know very little about Arvelo, but it’s safe to say that at 18, she had plenty of hopes, dreams and ambitions that she’ll never be able to pursue.
I never met Oscar Taveras. Heck, I never even spoke with him. But here I was Sunday night, a 25-year-old man alone in my apartment, trying (and failing) to fight back tears. When you’re a fan of a certain team, you invest time in getting to know the personalities of the athletes. Throughout the course of a baseball season, they’re part of your lives for at least three hours every day. Whether you want to or not, you develop a relationship with them. When something like this happens, it can feel like losing a family member or close friend.
I sat quietly on my couch trying to make sense of it, to understand why this happened to such a promising individual so full of joy and life. This is human nature.
But there’s something here we can all learn from Oscar. Despite his immense talent and promise, and even at times his consistent production, Taveras had to wait his turn. He sat patiently behind struggling Allen Craig, then immediately homered just hours after Craig was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
When Grichuk continued to start in front of him, he waited. In the background, questions arose over his potential and passion for certain aspects of the game. Matheny spoke out on Taveras’ flaws and wasn’t shy about why he wasn’t playing. It couldn’t have been easy for a 22 year old with such a spotlight on him to know these things were being said about him.
Taveras never pouted. He never complained. Instead he, by all accounts, was a tremendous teammate whose infectious smile and personality permeated throughout the clubhouse.
From MLB.com’s Jennifer Langosch:
“I am going to always remember how much he really did love the game,” outfielder Jon Jay said. “You would see his expressions out there, the smile. It’s just sad to see someone who had so much potential leave us so soon.
“But more than that, I’m going to remember a kid that had to battle to get to the big leagues. My family came from Cuba, and I know how hard it was for me to get here and have this opportunity. For him, it was a really hard path. Coming from the Dominican Republic, to make it from where he came from, was really special. It was something that I understood.”
“He was always smiling. He definitely had a lot more ahead. It’ll be tough. We’ll see how we do moving forward. But it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough.”
Things in life aren’t always going to go your way. It’s how you handle those times that define your true character.
And no matter what happens, do everything with joy and passion. Smile. Enjoy life.
Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org