HOUSTON -- Tributes and sorrow poured in from all corners of the baseball world Friday following the tragic deaths of free-agent infielder Luis Valbuena and former Major League infielder Jose Castillo in a car crash late Thursday in their native Venezuela, where they were playing winter ball.Their team, Cardenales de
HOUSTON -- Tributes and sorrow poured in from all corners of the baseball world Friday following the tragic deaths of free-agent infielder Luis Valbuena and former Major League infielder Jose Castillo in a car crash late Thursday in their native Venezuela, where they were playing winter ball.
Their team, Cardenales de Lara, confirmed via Twitter both men had been killed in the crash, which occurred after they had played in a game Thursday night. According to media reports from Venezuela, two other men in the car, including former big league infielder Carlos Rivero, survived.
Four men were taken into custody in the state of Yaracuy, where the state's governor, Julio Leon Heredia, said via Twitter that they were allegedly involved in causing the crash and robbing the players of their belongings. Media reports stated the SUV the players were riding in crashed after encountering a rock in the road.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement on Friday afternoon.
"This is a very sad day for our sport as we mourn the deaths of Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo," the statement read. "It is clear by all the stories today that they loved baseball and made an impact on their teammates and the clubs they represented. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to their families, friends and fans, particularly those in their native Venezuela."
Valbuena, 33, played the previous two seasons with the Angels, hitting .199 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 96 games in 2018 before being released in August. He was a career .226 hitter with 114 homers and 367 RBIs over 11 big league seasons, also playing for the Mariners, Indians, Cubs and Astros while forging a reputation as one of the most likeable players in the game.
"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Angel Luis Valbuena and former MLB infielder Jose Castillo. Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones during this time of grief," the Angels said on Twitter.
Many of Valbuena's former teammates were shaken when they read news of his death on social media early Friday.
"We're thinking about Luis Valbuena's family today. Our thoughts go to them. RIP to a teammate and a friend…" Angels outfielder Michael Trout wrote on Twitter.
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, a teammate of Valbuena's in 2015-16 and also a native of Venezuela, expressed his disbelief on Instagram, writing in Spanish: "I still can't believe what's going on … rest in peace brothers."
Castillo, 37, last appeared in the Major Leagues for the Astros in 2008. He also played for the Pirates and Giants in parts of five Major League seasons, batting .254 with 39 homers and 218 RBIs.
"The Astros family lost two young men yesterday, entirely too soon," the team said in a statement. "During his two seasons in Houston, Luis was an extremely popular player with his teammates and the Astros' staff. He was a productive player on the field and played a key role in the Astros' run to the postseason in 2015. Off the field, he was a warm and friendly presence to all who interacted with him. Jose's time with the Astros was brief, but he also had a positive impact on those around him. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends."
Angels general manager Billy Eppler remembered both men in a statement released by the club.
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo," the statement read. "Beyond Luis' many accomplishments on the field, we will all remember him for his magnetic personality, radiant smile and ability to make the people around him better. He will be truly missed by all in the baseball community. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to both the Valbuena and Castillo families."
Via Twitter, the Indians expressed their condolences.
"The Indians are saddened to hear of the passing of former Tribe infielder Luis Valbuena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."
Valbuena's passion for the game was evident in the way he played and interacted with teammates on and off the field. An enormously popular player in any clubhouse he stepped into, Valbuena's penchant for flipping his bat -- whether on a homer or a single -- was a sign of how much he enjoyed the game.
"I am so sad to hear about the sudden loss of Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo," Astros manager AJ Hinch said in a statement. "I will miss Luis' banter, smile, genuine love for his teammates and, of course, the bat flips. He was a beloved person whether he was on our team or across the field. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the lucky ones who could call him a teammate or friend."
Indians pitcher Danny Salazar tweeted: "So sad for this news. God has a good place for you in heaven mi amigo. All My condolences to the Valbuena and Castillo family. #ripbrother."
Free-agent catcher Rene Rivera, who played with Valbuena briefly this past season, also tweeted: "Sad to wake up to the news of the loss of teammate Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo. Praying for their families to find comfort in such a difficult time. You will be missed ValBueeeeeena."
A teammate of Valbuena for two years, Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs wrote: "RIP Luuuuuu... I will miss you brotha. Gone way too soon. Great teammate and great person. Every day he would have a smile that would light up the room."
The Venezuelan League will suspend games scheduled for Friday, and players will wear black armbands in memory of Valbuena and Castillo.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow <ahref="http: twitter.com/brianmctaggart"="">@brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.</ahref="http:>