Redbirds Family Loses Former Player

By Don Wade

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, a top prospect who played for the Memphis Redbirds the past two seasons, was killed in a car accident on Sunday, Oct. 26, in the Dominican Republic. He was 22.

Taveras, rated by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the game, started the 2014 season with the Redbirds but with the clear intent his stay in Memphis would be short. Taveras had missed much of the 2013 season with an ankle injury.

“I was a little frustrated (with the injury),” Taveras told The Daily News just days before the season started. “But I feel good. That’s the past. I play here, take good at-bats, play hard the game, and go to the big leagues.”

A baseball card showing St. Louis Cardinals’ Oscar Taveras is attached to a hat as part of a makeshift memorial outside Busch Stadium Monday, Oct. 27, in St. Louis. The former Redbird died Sunday.

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Taveras did take good at-bats and made two trips to St. Louis this season and was on their postseason roster. Although he hit just .239 in 80 games during the regular season with the Cardinals, he was 3-for-7 in the postseason (.429 batting average) and popped a pinch-hit home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.

When the Cardinals came to AutoZone Park for a scheduled exhibition game this season, manager Mike Matheny called Taveras a “special talent” and looked forward to Taveras improving his game to the point he would one day become a fixture in the Cardinals’ outfield.

Former Redbirds manager Gaylen Pitts, who works in player development for the Cardinals, has been watching Taveras since he came into the organization. Taveras signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008.

“He loved playing, always had a smile on his face,” Pitts said.

“I simply can’t believe it,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said in a club statement. “I first met Oscar when (he was 16) and will forever remember him as a wonderful young man who was a gifted athlete with an infectious love for life who lived every day to the fullest.”

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement, saying Game 5 of the World Series was played with “heavy hearts” Sunday night “in the memory of these two young people.” An 18-year-old woman identified as Taveras’ girlfriend also died in the accident.

Several Cardinals players expressed their condolences on Twitter. Third baseman Matt Carpenter tweeted: “Absolute tragedy. My prayers go out to Oscar Taveras family.”

Pitcher Carlos Martinez, a teammate both in Memphis and St. Louis, tweeted: “Today is one of the saddest days of my life, I lost a brother, friend and teammate! I can’t believe he’s gone, I loved him dearly! RIP OT 18.”

The Cardinals believed Taveras would come to spring training next season and compete for the starting job in right field.

“He was coming on,” Pitts said. “You didn’t have to be smart to know he was a good player. He was gonna hit. When he got in the batter’s box, he had no fear. That was his place."