Seeing as weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re about to embark on a series of pieces dealing with our most-hated rival (which are certain to contain some combination of vitriol, jealousy, and frustration), I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s appropriate at the outset to have a serious moment before we get all worked up about the Cardinals. No fan wishes actual tragedy on their biggest rival and before games are played that actually mean something, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s take a moment to honor the existence of a potential superstar taken from us too soon, Oscar Taveras.
As Reds fans, we were probably a little more aware of TaverasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ existence and promise than people who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t follow the NL Central. He was a highly-touted, five-tool player in a farm system famous for producing some of the best MLB talent in recent years. He signed in 2008 as a 16 year-old and was making fans and scouts eager for his ascent after making his full-season debut in 2011. He backed up all the hype in 2012 by turning his first full AA season into one that garnered him the Texas League MVP. He was a naturally-gifted hitter and athlete, one who swung hard, made solid contact with apparent ease, and homered for his first MLB hit.
We had one fantastic moment to watch Taveras demonstrate what was so special about him. Just six months ago, in his first career NLCS at-bat, he smoked a pinch-hit, game-tying home run against the eventual champions. His fourth career home run and his first such in the postseason sent Busch Stadium into a frenzy, which was only heightened after Taveras took a brief curtain call. As Joe Buck would call it, it was Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the biggest swing of his young big-league life,Ã¢â‚¬Â which sounds so tragic today knowing heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not going to be doing that so many more times in the big leagues over the next ten or fifteen years.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something we can forget about quite easily while enjoying the baseball seasonÃ¢â‚¬â€life is fragile and the opportunities to appreciate it can be fleeting. I was covering baseball in earnest for the first time during the 2014 postseason and I will always remember the pall that was cast over Game 5 of the World Series when news broke that Taveras had died in a car accident. There was something surreal about the game playing on televisionÃ¢â‚¬â€full of exuberant fans and the festive nature of October baseballÃ¢â‚¬â€while the world of baseball players, fans, and writers on Twitter shared the news with everyone, their condolences, their disbelief as to how this could happen, and how meaningless the game itself felt in light of this tragedy. In the middle of grown men playing a game we fell in love with as children, we received a very adult reminder of our own mortality.
It came out, a few weeks later, that Taveras had been driving with a blood-alcohol level five times the legal limit in the Dominican Republic (a little over three times the same limit in the United States), which no doubt was a major factor in his death. It was poor decision making, to be sure, and a decision that not only took his own life, but that of his girlfriend’s. It was the sort of stupid, short-sighted thought process that many of us have had ourselves when we were at that fresh, invincible period of our early twenties. Some of us come out the other side realizing how poor of a decision that was, some of us pay the price. When the latter happens, all that is left is confusion and pain.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a painful reminder but a valuable one all the same. We lost a young man with all the ability and potential to play a game exceptionally well for our entertainment but, more importantly, a family lost a member and many people lost someone they loved when Oscar Taveras passed away. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s that nudge we all receive occasionally to hug the people we love, remind them what they mean to us, and enjoy their company while weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re lucky enough to have it.