3:30 AM on Saturday May 31st, 2014, I sit in Santo Domingo International Airport with Wi-Fi for the first time since entering the Dominican Republic 6 days ago. I power my phone up for the first time in those 6 days and a lone Bleacher Report push notification appears.
Cardinals call up #1 prospect Oscar Taveras, in lineup Saturday vs. Giants batting 6th.
My pulse jumped and my heart raced. In the lineup Saturday? Today?! Oscar Taveras is going to make his debut today?! I jumped up, suddenly invigorated with energy, and punched the air in celebration. What a day this was going to be.
For years, I’d only heard about Taveras’ hitting prowess, how he was the second coming of Albert Pujols; but I’d never actually been able to experience his greatness. There were stories of him hitting bottle caps as a child in his native Dominican Republic, stories of him winning batting titles at every minor league level he played at, stories of his infectious smile and spirit. Suffice it to say, we had been expecting him for a long, long time.
And finally, he had arrived. And I’d learned of the news while in his native homeland, no less. I marked the time and day down on my phone so as to always be able to remember where I was when I got the news.
A transfer flight to Miami, a 2 hour layover, and another takeoff later I’m in the air somewhere above central Georgia around the time of first pitch. American Airlines has blessed me with in-flight Wi-Fi and you’d better believe I was taking full advantage of it. Most of that midday flight was lost in sleep, but not me. The Cardinals, and Taveras, had my full attention from 30,000 feet in the air.
Everything that didn’t involve Taveras just dragged. I wished he could have every Cardinal at-bat that day, as he just seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me. Hell, the whole game just dragged, a 0-0 contest through 4.1 innings was barely holding my interest. And then time stood still.
A 1-0 backdoor slider from Yusmiero Petit was the pitch. It stayed up over the outside corner of the plate and Taveras launched into that beautiful, majestic, iconic swing.
The audio that had been struggling to come through all game long was suddenly crystal clear, and I can still hear Rick Horton belting out, “The 1-0…HIT HARD…DEEP TO RIGHT…IT’S A LONG ONE…AND IT IS GONE. HOME RUN, OSCAR TAVERAS.”
I loud out an unintentionally loud scream of elation, I high-fived the stranger next to me and punched the sky with both fists. Oscar Taveras had just hit a home run in his second career at bat. It was almost too good to be true. And my only thought was, “The first of many, this kid is special.”
Immediately after hitting his home run and taking a chill-inducing curtain call, the St. Louis skies opened and rain began falling in sheets. Oscar Taveras had literally opened up the skies with his majestic blast; you couldn’t even write this type of script for a movie. The moment was too perfect.
Five months later he was gone.
I was sitting at home when, once again, a single Bleacher Report push notification appeared on my phone.
Cardinals 22 year old OF Oscar Taveras has died in a single car crash in the Dominican Republic.
It hit me like a punch straight to the chest. I felt the wind get knocked out of me and I couldn’t believe it. I showed it to my Dad to verify that I had indeed read it correctly. His shoulders slumped and he just nodded quietly and gave me a pat on the back before walking away.
I stared at the wall in complete and utter disbelief. My heart hurt, and I was in shock. Just as his home run had been too good to be true, this was just too awful to be true. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. He was supposed to become the greatest Cardinal since Musial, the next Pujols, and the greatest hitter of our generation. That iconic swing that launched his first career home run would someday be immortalized in bronze outside Busch Stadium. But instead, he was dead at 22, also having taken the life of his 18 year old girlfriend with him.
The same rain that his majestic first home run had brought was now one of the causing factors in his tragic demise.
The very skies that Taveras had opened up on that afternoon in May had opened up for him once again, but this time they would not be returning him to us.
There are two parts to every death, the victim of the death, and the people left behind. In the wake of the tragedy, it brought strength to many grieving souls to witness the way the Cardinals, as a team, came together to honor the memory of their fallen comrade. They became less of a team and more of a family; and at the center of all of the love and support was Carlos Martinez, Taveras’ childhood friend who understandably took his death extremely hard.
And among the other people left behind that should not be neglected, Taveras’ now two year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras – who not only lost his dad, but also lost his acting mother and Taveras’ 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo. And his middle name alone should tell you what kind of family the Cardinals are and what kind of impact that had on Taveras.
But for as unexpected and tragic as this was, the situation got a hell of a lot more complicated just about two weeks later. Once again, Bleacher Report did the honors, delivering the push notification that created said complication.
Dominican police reports show Cardinals’ OF Oscar Taveras’ blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit at time of fatal crash.
My heart sank in my chest. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I wanted to think that it was just a rain-slickened road accident, and nothing more. Somehow that made his death easier to swallow.
But now, things were convoluted.
When I began driving, one of the things that my Mom told me that has stuck with me was, “Every time you get behind the wheel, you hold a lot of lives in your hands, and every decision you make can end any given number of those lives.”
As I briefly mentioned earlier, not only did Taveras essentially rob the world of his own life by strapping in behind the wheel that afternoon while heavily inebriated, the life of his 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo, was lost.
The problem is not nearly as simple as, Taveras made a really stupid choice and now we’re all dearly paying for it. First off, public transportation in the Dominican Republic is not easily accessible. Taveras couldn’t really have just called up an Uber, or called a cab or taken a bus. It isn’t that simple down there. And second off, the quality of the roads in the Dominican Republic is absolutely atrocious, which also contributed to his loss of control over the car. So beyond the idea of not driving drunk, those are two other issues that can be solved to potentially save lives.
But, at the same time, the problem can be as simple as just not driving drunk. And, I’ll expand that to distracted driving of any kind. And I’ve been a victim of this in my own experience.
Last summer, I suffered an extremely painful concussion and broken wrist in a 2 car accident on the highway, caused when our car was hit from behind by a driver going 40 MPH who was too buried in his phone too look up and stop in time. Our car was effectively crumpled, and my head and arm were both smashed off the dashboard.
I still feel pain from this experience to this day, and I take distracted or impaired driving of any kind very seriously. The driver of the car that hit ours stepped out to talk to us and admitted that he was on his phone at the time of the accident. And he didn’t even seem apologetic about it, in fact he didn’t even seem to care, and that completely disgusted me.
So after moving forward from the initial grief of the Taveras tragedy, we move into what we can learn from the incident. Plain and simple, impaired and distracted driving are unacceptable, and must be avoided at all costs.
As my dear Mother made clear to me, driving is dangerous enough as is. Driving while inebriated or while bothered with something that takes your eyes off the road just increases that danger astronomically. And as innocent as it seems, it can have incredibly dire consequences, as we so tragically learned from Oscar Taveras.
So, on the one year anniversary of two completely unnecessary and unexpected deaths, I implore you, dear reader; put down your phone, call a cab, call an Uber, call your friends, do whatever you have to do. Just don’t drive while distracted or impaired. Life is precious, and not to be tempted unnecessarily.
And for all of the special gifts that Oscar Taveras blessed the world with, he robbed himself, and one other person of the greatest gift of all.
The gift of life.
Thanks for reading…