People who know me well realize I have been a major league baseball fan of the team in St. Louis almost since I was born an hour away in southern Illinois. Frankly, it was expected of every family member shortly after his or her birth.
I start every spring hoping the team of my youth, my middle adulthood and middle age will be successful, perhaps even win a World Series. As a Missouri resident, I have an American League favorite team I always hope will have success — the Royals of Kansas City. As I write, they are still alive in the World Series, and I still hope they will overcome a 3-2 deficit with the San Francisco Giants and win the Series.
Not very deep into the current season, Cardinals’ management elevated a young sure-bet star named Oscar Taveras from its Triple A team. Taveras, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic, was best known for his hitting prowess.
While his defense and baseball savvy understandably needed to mature, the announcement of his rise to the big leagues generated a lot of excitement. The mother team was struggling to generate offense, and fans welcomed the talent — compared in the same breath as fellow Dominican and former Cardinal Albert Pujols — and the much-needed offensive spark he was likely to provide.
The youngster did not disappoint in his first Major League at-bat, whacking a home run. Baseball analysts began to predict great things for Taveras right out of the gate. By the time the Cardinals had been eliminated from this year’s playoffs, Taveras had appeared in more than 80 games, finishing with pretty average numbers at the plate. He was platooned in right field and sometimes entered a game as a pinch hitter. He was not an immediate star.
The 22-year-old ended the season not as a big-league star but still as one its “hopefuls,” a star in the making but one who still needed to turn the corner to catch up to his full potential on the big stage. He and management had carefully planned Taveras’ offseason, which included conditioning in the States and some winter baseball in the Dominican.
With his future in baseball still bright, he had the desire and motivation to maximize his ability.
I was shocked late Sunday to receive a text from Word & Way’s board of trustees chair Kevin Gibson. “Oscar Taveras died in a car accident today,” he texted. I responded briefly and quickly turned on the TV and tuned in to ESPN. The crawler on the bottom of the screen noted the breaking news that confirmed Kevin’s message. The St. Louis Cardinal rookie and his girlfriend had both perished in an accident down in the Dominican Republic while they were en route to his hometown. No further details were available.
Later reports have indicated the island nation had been experiencing a lot of rainfall. Some wondered if the weather had played a part in the crash.
The Dominican Republic has produced its share of professional baseball players. Talented youngsters saw this as the best route out of impoverished backgrounds in their country. Not only individual but family hopes rested on success. This was likely true of the young talent named Oscar Taveras.
As a fan of Taveras’ team and of Taveras, I am saddened by this player’s untimely death and departure. We can only imagine what he might have achieved had he lived to complete his baseball career. This is not the first time we have seen a young person of promise leave this earth with many of his dreams yet to be realized. Oscar Taveras will not be the last.
Actually, none of us has assurance that she or he will live for another year, or for another 10 minutes. This is the nature of life and death. We may have the best genes and family health history. A person may appear to be “as fit as a fiddle,” as the saying goes. We may have experienced great success in our lives. But no one is immune from what we refer to as an “untimely death” due to health issues or something like an auto accident.
Most of us have seen a glimpse of Oscar Taveras in his baseball pursuits but neither I nor most people know much about him otherwise. He did seem in full pursuit of his dream as a baseball player. By all accounts, he gave everything he had to this pursuit. His manager, Mike Matheny, has frequently suggested Taveras proved himself to be a coachable young player in hopes of maximizing his great potential.
In the highly competitive world of professional athletics, Taveras didn’t act as though he already had it made. He recognized he needed to further develop his skills and his baseball knowledge. That is what he did, and what he planned to continue doing.
We all can learn that lesson, at least, from this young man. We anticipate we will have a future on this earth, perhaps even a long one. But we don’t know. Obviously, we have no guarantees from breath to breath.
Believers realize the present moment is the only guarantee they have. As such, none of us can afford to waste moments and their potential for good. None of us is ever guaranteed a second chance to make up for a missed opportunity.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.