One year later, Taveras' presence still felt on Cards
ST. LOUIS -- It was one year ago, as Game 5 of the World Series was about to begin in San Francisco, that general manager John Mozeliak received a phone call that would rock an organization at its core.
One hundred and 48 days after his Major League debut, 14 days after his postseason curtain call and 10 days after his rookie season had come to an end, Oscar Taveras died.
After spending a Sunday out in the Dominican Republic, Taveras crashed his 2014 Chevrolet Camaro into a tree. His girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, also lost her life in the accident, which occurred on slick roads and with Taveras behind the wheel with a blood alcohol content near five times the legal limit.
Taveras, whose arrival in the Majors had been so widely anticipated just a few months earlier, became the third Cardinals player in 13 years to die suddenly. He has now been gone for a year.
"When you reflect back on the loss of Oscar and how that impacted our organization, you realize baseball takes a back seat to understanding the grieving process for family, friends, and teammates," Mozeliak said. "The impact of that tragedy will have lasting effects on our organization; however, we still understand what is expected of this organization, and we will continue to focus on success. "
The circumstances behind the deaths of the two young people have led to organizational changes over the past 12 months. The club brought guest speakers to Spring Training to talk with Major and Minor League players about the risks of drinking and driving. The Cardinals also revived a program that provides transportation for players who are not fit to drive and revisited its messaging for Latin American players.
There have been several public reminders of Taveras' death during the past year, as well. The club placed an "OT" placard in the bullpen wall, alongside those hung to remember the memories of Darryl Kile and Josh Hancock. All uniformed personnel wore a similar "OT" patch all season.
Various on-field tributes were held, including moments of silence before the team's first Spring Training game, season opener and home opener. The Cardinals also invited Taveras' family to St. Louis in late May so they could be presented with photo books of their son on the one-year anniversary of his Major League debut.
And in one of the most poignant moments of the last year, Carlos Martinez, whose season was a tribute to his late best friend, dazzled with seven shutout innings against the Dodgers while wearing No. 18 that day. He had started the afternoon crying on the bullpen mound while a tribute video to Taveras played above him.
"There was no denying that [he] was still a part of this club," manager Mike Matheny said of Taveras. "Whenever any person or group loses somebody who is close to them, it's not something that goes away this quick. The mourning process is different for every single person, for every group. We had the reminder, too, as we put on those jerseys every day. You remember, one, how fragile this is, and two, I'm reminded how special each of these guys are."