Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is in the Dominican Republic with manager Mike Matheny to attend the funeral services for 22-year-old rookie Oscar Taveras, who tragically passed away Sunday as a result of a car accident.
Mozeliak took time on Monday evening to speak with media members on a conference call. Below is a transcript of his comments
“From my standpoint, and the Cardinals’ standpoint, we were absolutely stunned to learn this news last night. Moises Rodriguez, our international director, called me at approximately 6:30 p.m. last night to tell me the news. My very first thought was, ‘is this true? Is this possible?’ I had just seen Oscar a week and a half ago, so full of life. To have it end so tragically in a car accident was, needless to say, shocking. I was stunned and saddened. He was that became an identity of our organization, when you think about how much has been written about him, how much much has been talked about him. He never really got that opportunity to truly show it at the Major League level.
“I can tell you that tonight, our contingency and group of people down here — Mike Matheny, myself, Moises — will head over and spend some time with the family. They’re certainly grieving right now so we want to give them as much room and respect as possible, but also try to help them in this time as best we can. This has been tough of Oscar’s teammates. It’s just never easy to do. Someone so young, so full of life, and to have it cut short reminds you that life isn’t fair. It’s one of those difficult times where you have to pull together and remind each other that life is just special.”
Mozeliak confirmed that both of Oscar’s parents are present, and his father rode on the flight with him from Miami to the Dominican Republic.
“Clearly he was taken by the events and very sad at this time.”
A viewing was scheduled for Monday night, then a private, family-only burial will take place Tuesday afternoon.
What is the mood like right now in the Dominican Republic?
“What I saw when we got off the airplane was people are aware. Oscar was a big name in this region. People looked at him as one of the next greatest players. You can tell that this town and the area felt the loss.”
What were your initial thoughts when you heard the news?
“Any time you hear that a player may have passed, you’re just stunned. Your first thought just goes life and the importance of it. I’m not really thinking about baseball. I was thinking of young man who had a tremendous smile and wanted to be a part of this organization. The last conversation with him was about spending time with him in Jupiter this offseason. We had a detailed plan and he was actually going to show up a week from then.
“Then you have the memories of him.”
What did you see in Oscar when he was just a young kid?
“He was young, athletic, high-energy young man…he had success down here, then when we brought him to Gulf Coast he just took off. Not only did he always have success, but the team he played on had success. There’s a correlation there. He was one of those guys that if you gave him a chance, he could do something special.”
You’ve unfortunately had to go through this before with Darryl Kile in 2002 and Josh Hancock in 2007. How was this situation unique?
“Every situation is different. The past two experiences we’ve had like this, they were in the season. This was the offseason. You’re always thinking about what players need to do…how we pull this team together, a lot of it is going to come down to answering text messages, picking up the phone, being able to reach out and connect. I’ve heard from a lot of players. I think Mike’s heard from almost every one of them. Everyone is sad about this loss, but I do know of the things Mike does well in the clubhouse is getting guys together and impresses the values of what a team means, what a family means.”
What were the reactions of the players when you told them?
“I would say the word mature on how they approached it. Obviously their motions of sad, sickened, shock, all came into play…I think guys when they were reaching out to me were looking for confirmation and understanding of what happened. All of this is happening quite fast, as you could imagine. Within 30 minutes it was almost at a national level of momentum on this.”
What separated Oscar Taveras from the rest of the organization’s prospects?
“I think when you talk about him in baseball terms, he was just enormously talented. The industry valued him that way. Most people who watched him on an everyday basis understood what he was capable of, and he was doing so at a very young age. When you talk about other players in our system, you just don’t have many Oscars. For me right now, I’m not really reflecting on Oscar as a baseball player. I’m reflecting more on what he meant as a person, his life. In time, we’ll get to the baseball side of this, but now his family is grieving and I think what they need from us is just help getting through it.”
What was Mike Matheny’s reaction when you told him?
“Silence. He was just shocked.”
What in his character was shown in how he was handling all this attention at such a young age?
“Unfortunately you have to grow up fast in that environment. There are challenges to that. But the game of baseball was something that was going to allow him to do special things. He learned that there was a process involved for that to happen, and as a young person, he had to adapt to that.”
On a personal level, how do you reconcile something like this vs. what happened 12 years ago (Darryl Kile) and seven years ago (Josh Hancock)?
“It’s difficult. Last night I had a hard time sleeping. I just kept thinking about the question probably many of you had: Why? Why now? It’s something we’ll never know the answer to. What I hope comes out of this, though, is these young players that have the pedigree of being considered great realize that they’re not bullet proof, that they understand that they have to be careful and that they understand that their everyday decisions — they need to be smart about.
“This was an accident, and accidents happen. But obviously he was something that had a zest for life and he was someone who wasn’t afraid to take chance or risk from time-to-time. But I do hope some of his peers and the people he was close with understand that life is fragile and they need to be careful and smart moving forward.”
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