Oftentimes one of the best ways to cope with a tragic death of someone close to you is to be around others you love who also loved the person who died.
The Cardinals weren’t really afforded that opportunity when Oscar Taveras died. His tragic car accident happened on Oct. 26. The 2014 season ended 10 days prior with a loss to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.
By that time, most players were either back home with their families or on vacation somewhere, away from the team.
Away from their baseball “family” when one of their brothers died. It was tough.
The Cardinal Caravan event came to Evansville, Ind., on Jan. 19 – my hometown – and it was hard to miss the “OT 18” lapel pins that Cardinals players and team officials were wearing. He was clearly on their mind and will be this whole season. The players will wear jersey patches that read “OT” while Carlos Martinez, a close friend of Taveras, changed his number from 44 to 18 in honor of his late friend.
I asked the players how they dealt with Taveras’ loss while being away from their teammates. They said Spring Training would be the first chance at some true closure for them as a group.
“Individually, he passed away right after the season so it’s hard to fathom for me personally,” said outfielder Tommy Pham, who grew close with Taveras while in the minor leagues together. “I always called him my ‘hermano de Dominicano’ – my Dominican brother.
“Seeing him gone now is still hard for me to take in. When we start playing games and see that he’s not there it will soak in, but it will also be more comforting because we’ll be together as a group.”
As a result there’s been a lot of reflection this offseason – from teammates, coaches, front office personnel, fans. For most players, it was most comforting to remember the joy Taveras had for playing the game of baseball.
His rookie season had its share of ups and downs, but no one could doubt that the kid was having fun doing what he loved.
“He always brought that competitive edge, especially as a young guy,” pitcher Marco Gonzales said. “He was always the first one to look for an opportunity and take advantage of it. He always brought a smile to everyone’s face and a really great guy – really positive. That’s what I’ll remember him for.
“I want to echo what Tommy said, too. I’m still looking for a little bit of closure. I think we’ll get that in Spring Training when we’re all together and we can all come to closure as a group and be there for each other as teammates. I’m sure it will be emotional at the start, but it will be good.”
Follow Cole Claybourn on Twitter at @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org