When I found out about the death of 22 year old St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, I didn’t want to believe it. I blocked it out for a few minutes and took the field in a softball game. Minutes later, it came rushing back when I stepped to the plate. Maybe it’s because I am lefthanded on sides of the ball like Oscar Taveras or maybe it was common sense, but it wouldn’t leave my head. It had nothing to do with baseball. One person close by blurted out, “Well, we can’t get Giancarlo Stanton anymore” and I restrained myself from knocking him out. When a 22 year old kid dies in a tragic accident, the last thing you think about is his profession. You think about his family. You think about his girlfriend’s family, because she passed away in the accident too. You think about his friends and his teammates, people who had their day lifted by Oscar’s smile every time he decided to beam it across St. Louis or whatever city he was in.
I had the privilege to participate in a media session in January and I asked Oscar about his offseason training program with Matt Holliday and Trevor Rosenthal. I couldn’t tell you his answer because all I could focus on was the kid’s smile and his wide eyed amazement at where his life had landed him. He was sitting in the king’s circle. A place where previous players have used as a pedestal and others have fallen down from. He looked like he won the lottery and had to prove he was worth the excitement. All I could do was step back and admire the kid’s potential and what was to come for years in this city. He was a special player but more importantly, he was a great kid. Eager to learn and please. He wanted to do well. He didn’t carry a two cent head or a 100 pound ego onto the field. He treated his teammates like brothers and not like people standing next to him in a bank.
His baseball talents were talked about as much as any previous prospect in St. Louis. He came up on May 31st as the savior for all things wrong in Cardinal Nation and that big sweeping swing of his made the world seem good and fine for the few seconds it took to start and complete at the plate. Oscar’s stat line won’t woo strangers who care to stop by and read what he did. You had to watch him often in order to get the full effect. Regular season and playoffs combined, Oscar hit 4 home runs, drove in 23 runs, and hit .244 in just over 80 games. It wasn’t enough for fans to truly realize his talent. I jumped on the Oscar bandwagon because there was something about his swing and his overall poise at the plate that screamed special to me. More than anything, it was easy to root for the kid. He did things right. In a world of money hungry egos and larger than life personalities, Oscar just wanted to belong and that’s why it is a big loss for the world and the Cardinals in addition to his family and friends.
We will never get to find out what exactly Taveras had in store for us. He was just opening up his toolbox. He was going to compete for a starting job in 2015 and get to show the National Media and baseball fans what everyone in the Cards farm system was talking about. The most painful thing when it comes to death is the unknown. Seeing someone’s potential have a permanent bottle cap clamped onto it. Seeing a door slammed shut and bolted forever. There is no go to device that sits at our disposal when it comes to death. Any death. A personal family member or friend. An athlete you watch. A movie star you are amazed by. You don’t have to know somebody in order for them to have an effect on your life. Oscar Taveras had an effect on a lot of lives since the day he was born in 1992 and the day he passed away this past Sunday.
Reading Xavier Scruggs’ heartfelt letter to his fallen friend, I felt that special ode could have been duplicated for several teammates throughout his career. The effect he had on anyone in the same clubhouse with him. I truly think no individual Cardinal had a problem with Oscar during the 2014 season. I just don’t believe the rumor at all. I think they loved him like a teammate and tried to help him mature into a Major League baseball player.
What do the Cardinals do now? Mourn. Same for us. Just remember the kid and let his passing be another reminder of the harshness of life. It can be cut off at any moment and will always be a privilege. You can be the healthiest person in the world and still be a potential victim. You can be the safest person and still fall prey to the devilish dangers of this world. Sometimes, bad things happen and there are no easy answers. When I found out on Sunday, I simply stopped thinking about everything else for a moment and just asked myself…why him? There was no answer and there never will be. That’s the hard part. The good thing is that Oscar can be an inspiration to us all. Live every day like it’s the last 24 you have.
This has been a stream of thought and that’s because there are multiple angles to take on this story. It’s a story no one wanted to write about. It’s a story nobody wanted to uncoil about. That’s the reality that hits us every time somebody like Oscar passes away. Gone painfully soon and taking with him so much excitement and optimism.
A month ago, I got into a heated argument with a close friend that proved to be useless and escalated because I got defensive over Oscar and his talents. I wish so badly that I could go back to doing that today. I wish I could debate with another fan about the player Oscar could become. I had no idea it would come to this. That’s life. It’s a 24/7 sucker punch.
I am sure the death of Oscar Taveras will effect the 2015 Cardinals in a big way. I am simply not ready to discuss that. At least not at this second. I will choose instead to look back and admire the exuberant kid that I got a chance to meet and watch play for a single season. I’ll stay with that for a while. For as long as I can. Until it’s time to move on. I don’t know when that will be. I’ll remember the smile. The first home run. The dramatic home run in the NLCS against the Giants. The many stung baseballs that flew off his bat. I’ll remember all the good stuff.
I’ll pull a page from Mike Matheny’s handbook and take this one day at a time.
Thanks for reading and goodnight.