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An Ode To Oscar Taveras

Luke Holthouse |
October 27, 2014 | 1:54 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

I got to see Oscar Taveras play twice.

In this year’s NLDS between the Cardinals and the Dodgers, he pinch hit in both games in Los Angeles. He didn’t make a plate appearance the one other time I saw the Cardinals live at Dodger Stadium this season on June 29. 

He actually got a hit during his at bat in Game 2, and even came around to score on Matt Carpenter’s home run. Yet his far more memorable AB for me was from the night before. This has more to do with the context of the respective games—the Cardinals won Game 1 on an epic 10-9 comeback but fell 3-2 in Game 2—than Taveras’ performance. 

But looking back on my brief glimpse at the career of such a tragically talented ballplayer, his Game 1 at bat seems all the more fitting.

He struck out. 

It was the top of the seventh inning. The Cardinals trailed 6-4. The bases were loaded. There was one out.

And he struck out. On three pitches.

Taveras’ majestic left-handed swing inspired Cardinal scouts to sign the Dominican Republic native to a six-figure professional contract at the age of 16. He was touted as the best prospect in the entire St. Louis organization, extremely high praise in a franchise renowned for its unmatched consistency and stacked farm system. But his limitless potential was no match for the vicious slider of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Taveras quickly found a seat back in the dugout before it even looked like he settled in to the batter’s box.

What happened next is what really seared the moment into a timeless memory. I was so invested in the implication of the inning that I hadn’t even noticed that that was the first time I had seen Taveras play in person. 

SEE ALSO: Car Accident Kills St. Louis Cardinals Taveras

If you live under a rock or pretend football is the only real sport in the country, Kershaw is really, really, really good. He had all the hype and potential that Taveras had, and is living up to it as arguably the best player in all of baseball. His fastball is located consistently with good velocity and his breaking pitches—like the one he used to strike out Taveras—are almost unhittable.

So the fact that the Cardinals had Kershaw on the ropes and were a big swing away from stealing the lead in a crucial playoff opener inspired a feeling of exhilaration that I have only been able to experience while watching a baseball game.

Call it slow, call it archaic, call it boring. But there is something unparalleled about the tension, nerves and hope of a late-inning baseball rally. The fact that almost half of a minute goes by between split seconds of actual action in an at-bat doesn’t ruin baseball. It makes baseball. 

That anticipation forces you to dream of every miracle scenario you can think of then shut yourself up as not to jinx your team’s prospects. It causes you to maniacally analyze whether or not you should cross your arms or put your hands in your pocket before realizing that such hyperawareness of minor antics is bound to feel like bad luck either way.

It forces you to think yourself, “Wow, I’m standing with 50,000 other people right now who all came together to watch a bunch of grown men play baseball. Life is awesome.”

And that realization was before Carpenter even hit a bases-clearing double to give the Cardinals a 7-6 lead that would last the rest of the night. The Taveras strikeout was a brief side note. The Cardinal fan I went with said Taveras shouldn’t have even come in the game and manager Mike Matheny should have pinch hit with a right-handed batter for a better matchup against the lefty Kershaw. But that didn't matter anymore. The Cardinals were up on the series 1-0.

The dichotomy of Game 1 and yesterday is what makes dealing with Taveras’ death so hard. Three and a half weeks ago, I was reminded how this world is too great to be one big accident. Yesterday, one big accident reminded me of just the opposite.


I’d like to say that my joy from the playoff game wasn’t completely dependent on the result. I had almost as good of a time watching Game 2 the following night with my dad, and I still high-fived every fan I saw in red on the way out. 

“Don’t worry, we’ll get ‘em back in St. Louis,” we said to each other in almost perfect chorus. “Oh yeah, we’ll definitely close it out at home.”

We certainly had no idea that the Cardinals actually would win Game 3 and 4 to close out the series. But what mattered was this bond that complete strangers shared with each other almost 2,000 miles from the city in which the bond originated.

I’d also like to say that this isn’t a tragedy just because Taveras was so good at baseball.

Yes, this is a huge blow to the future competitiveness of the team. It’s a regret that will hang over the franchise even longer than Trojan football fans have used Reggie Bush-related NCAA sanctions as an excuse. For probably the next 10 years, maybe even the next 15, there will always be what-ifs in St. Louis if the Cardinals can’t generate power numbers, can’t fill out the outfield, can’t hit with runners in scoring position in the playoffs or can’t capitalize on the dynasty this franchise built with Taveras as one of the center pieces. The Cardinals went as far as trading a former All-Star and World Series champion outfielder in Allen Craig for pitching help to open up a spot in right field for Taveras.

But catcher Buster Posey said it best after his San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the World Series the same night as Taveras’ death: “I heard about it in the fourth, had a sinking feeling in my gut. My first thought was, ‘This game is not that important.’”

SEE ALSO: Dodger Stadium Express: Metro Nightmare Or Gameday Savior?

What makes this a tragedy is painfully obvious. He was 22 years old, about the age of any senior on campus, and his girlfriend that died with him in the car accident was 18, about the age of any freshman on campus. Just as we were getting to know him, he was gone.

The sickening part is how easily this could have been avoided, and I say that before any real details about the accident have even come out. If the Cardinals had beaten the Giants in the NLCS after knocking out the Dodgers, then it would have been St. Louis playing Kansas City for the World Series this week. Taveras would not have gone home to the Dominican Republic where the accident occurred. He would still be alive. 

I know relatively little about him, and even less about his late girlfriend. Both lives were inherently valuable, like every human life, regardless of whether or not that person is a professional athlete.

But of what little memory I have of Taveras, I hope to share it. 

I won’t think about that bases loaded strike out when I think of him. That quick, merciless, one-sided battle that meant something totally different then than it does now. There’s no Matt Carpenter hitting behind him to cash in all those runners in scoring position. There’s no time for “man, he hasn’t even peaked yet!” There’s no Game 2, or next round, or next year. It was just another example of a mere mortal succumbing to divine wrath, this time in the form of that vicious Clayton Kershaw breaking ball.

I will instead think about that magnificent swing. So lean, so smooth, and yet so powerful. With so much torque and so much extension, it’s amazing he’s still able to make contact, and boy did the ball go far when he did.

I knew Taveras's first homer would be something special. (Screenshot courtesy of Luke Holthouse)
I knew Taveras's first homer would be something special. (Screenshot courtesy of Luke Holthouse)
I took a screenshot of the homepage of ESPN.com when Taveras hit a home run in his major league debut this past May at home against the Giants. With all the good things I had heard about him as he trailblazed through the minor leagues, I knew that it was a moment worth documenting. It’s equally fitting that in his final plate appearance at Busch Stadium, Taveras hit another home run against the Giants in Game 2 of the NLCS. 

Both times, he took curtain calls.

More importantly though, I’ll think about every compliment I heard about him in management, in the clubhouse and in the media since his death. He avoided any rookie mistakes off the field. The closest he got to trouble was Cardinal beat writer Jenifer Langosch asking him to stop calling her ma’am after every interview. Every executive commented on his ever-present smile.

I’d like to think there’s a place where that lives on. Gone forever are his abilities to use his laser sharp eyes, his ferociously fast hands. But beyond his physical beauty, I pray that his passion for life, his love of the game— his spirit—still exists.

Maybe it’s in some “Field of Dreams” inspired cornfield in Iowa. Maybe it’s overlooking Busch Stadium. Maybe it’s overlooking the place where he grew up playing in the Dominican. But somewhere, somehow, I pray that Taveras is up there watching baseball. 

He loved baseball. So much so that he made all of us love baseball a little more.

Thank you, Oscar.

Reach Staff Reporter Luke Holthouse here and follow him here



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