SPORTS

Oscar Taveras remembered for talent, smile

10/27/2014 02:38 EDT | Updated 12/27/2014 05:59 EST
Oscar Taveras had six Major League games under his belt when he rounded the corner in the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse last June at the Rogers Centre as he prepared to start a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Standing by his locker was a lone inquisitor who asked if he could answer a few questions for Playball, the Blue Jays' magazine. Taveras hesitated for an instant before agreeing.

A somewhat shy 21-year-old at the time who held dual citizenship in Canada and the Dominican Republic, Taveras smiled when he recalled moving to Montreal as a teenager, saying he was so happy and excited to live there.

He found the transition to schools in Canada to be somewhat difficult but enjoyed the competition he experienced playing baseball for the Montreal Marquis at the Triple-A midget level.

Offer to play for Canada

Rated the No. 3 prospect at the start of 2014 by Baseball America, Taveras had been signed by the Cardinals as a 16-year-old out of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, his birthplace. 

He was on a fast track to the big leagues after a Double-A season in the Cardinals' system where he had 23 homers, 94 RBIs and a .321 average in 2012.

There was an offer to his agent to join Team Canada for the 2013 World Baseball Classic but the Cardinals' brass nixed that, something Taveras understood and accepted. There would be other chances to represent Canada, everyone thought.

In his second at bat in the majors on May 31 this year, Taveras homered off San Francisco pitcher Yusmeiro Petit. It would be the game-winner. He had a couple of hits in the Cardinals' series against the Blue Jays but was sent back to the minors a few days later. He returned July 1 and remained with the team for the rest of the season.

Later that month, the Cardinals traded away Allen Craig to provide Taveras more playing time.

Huge smile

Asked if he had tried to extend his athleticism to hockey while he lived in Montreal, Taveras broke into a big smile and laughed, 'No way,' was all he said.

When the news of his and his girlfriend's deaths in the accident was disseminated on Sunday, his Cardinals' teammates and those who played with Taveras in the Dominican spoke of his upbeat demeanour and how he always had that huge smile on his face.

His last Major League hit came in Game 2 of the National League Championship series on Oct. 12. Taveras came off the bench to hit a majestic game-tying pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the seventh off San Francisco's Jean Machi in a game the Cardinals would win on a Kolten Wong walk-off homer. It would be the Cardinals' last win of the year.

The home runs by Taveras bracketed an all-too brief career. This is a tragic loss for baseball.

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