Oscar Taveras remembered: He 'had a chance to be a huge, bright star'

Jeff PassanMLB columnist
Yahoo Sports
FILE - In this May 31, 2014, file photo, St. Louis Cardinals' Oscar Taveras smiles after the Cardinals' 2-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants in a baseball game in St. Louis. Taveras died Sunday Oct. 26, 2014 in an auto accident in his native Dominican Republic, according to Angel Ovalles, the Cardinals' representative in the Caribbean country. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson,File)
FILE - In this May 31, 2014, file photo, St. Louis Cardinals' Oscar Taveras smiles after the Cardinals' 2-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants in a baseball game in St. Louis. Taveras died Sunday Oct. 26, 2014 in an auto accident in his native Dominican Republic, according to Angel Ovalles, the Cardinals' representative in the Caribbean country. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson,File)

Oscar Taveras just wanted to hit, to swing his bat all day and all night, because it's what he loved to do. He wanted to hit in a cage or on a field, wherever there was baseball to be played, his unorthodox left-handed stroke connecting with a thwack just a little bit louder than everyone else's. He didn't understand that baserunning and fielding mattered as much as they do, and that was OK, because he was 22 years old, still just a kid. He had time to learn.

Taveras died Sunday in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic, news that rocked his family, his friends, his home country and his adoptive world, baseball, which five years after weathering the loss of Nick Adenhart to a wreck tried to wrap its head around another player leaving far too early.

Sadness clouded Game 5 of the World Series, the death of Taveras and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, starting as a rumor out of the D.R., rat-a-tatting around the Twitter echo chamber and eventually receiving confirmation from Taveras' agent and his team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Details were sparse. They mattered little.

"It's a young man that had a chance to be a huge, bright star," Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday told Yahoo Sports on Sunday night.

Oscar Taveras was ranked as one of MLB's top prospects prior to the season. (AP)
Oscar Taveras was ranked as one of MLB's top prospects prior to the season. (AP)

Taveras arrived this season, a bundle of preternatural hitting talent whose rapid ascent to the major leagues apexed with a home run in his second major league at-bat, a towering, leviathan shot that encapsulated everything he could be on a baseball field. His swing was long, so he struggled with fastballs, whereas off-speed pitches, like the one Yusmeiro Petit threw that rainy May 31 day, were little bon-bons, delicious and perfectly sized for his appetite.

"When you see bat speed like that," one scout who watched Taveras for years said, "you know it's going to turn into something if he's willing to let it happen."

Everything else he would learn. That's what the Cardinals reminded themselves when Taveras was late on fastballs, or late to balls in the field, or late on the basepaths. For all of their frustration, the Cardinals knew it was as incumbent on them to help erode his tunnel vision as it was on Taveras to understand success in the major leagues – the sort of .300-hitting, 30-homer success of which scouts believed he was capable – takes time and effort and perspective.

This hurts for so many reasons. Because the Cardinals already have experienced too many players passing early, with Darryl Kile in 2002 and Josh Hancock in 2007. Because no mom or dad, brother or sister, grandmother or grandfather, best friend or slight acquaintance, should deal with the grief of something truly tragic. Especially because he never got that time to grow up.

Nobody knows what Oscar Taveras would've been. Maybe a great hitter. Maybe one who never figured out how to catch up to a fastball. Maybe a solid outfielder and legitimate baserunner. Maybe a full-time DH. Maybe a husband. Maybe a father. Though deaths such as Taveras' and Arvelo's are forever sad, these are made even sadder by their ages, 22 and 18, and what they didn't get to do.

"It's just tragic," Holliday said. "It's a young man who was starting to realize his dreams. It's a horrible accident."

Holliday lockered next to Taveras, and it will be odd coming to spring training next year and not seeing his face, his smile, his antics with good friend Carlos Martinez and mentor Jhonny Peralta. Taveras was going to compete for the Cardinals' right-field job. He was probably going to win it. And it would be his into the next decade, batting titles there for the taking, stardom at the ready, everything possible.

Oscar Taveras was still just a kid. He had so much time.

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