Baseball lost one of its future stars Sunday. The Dominican Republic lost one of its favorite sons.
Oscar Taveras, the vibrant Cardinals top outfield prospect, and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 18, were killed in a Sunday afternoon car accident near his home on the Caribbean island. He was 22.
Taveras opened his big league career with a home run as rain poured down on Busch Stadium in St. Louis. His teammates greeted him in the dugout with high-fives and back-pats. As fans roared for the young Dominican player, he ran the steps up out of the dugout, turned to them and waved for his first curtain call.
It was his Major League debut, a fitting introduction for one of the most celebrated prospects in baseball.
This was Oscar's way of saying, "Hello."
Four months later, a crowd cheered Taveras again, this time on postseason's grand stage, after he hit a game-tying pinch-hit home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
Another curtain call followed. Again, he jogged up the dugout steps. He smiled and threw his helmet in the air as he waved to the St. Louis faithful.
This much was certain: Taveras loved the fans and the fans loved him back.
But that would be Taveras' last game at Busch Stadium, his final curtain call.
"We are all stunned and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of one of the youngest members of the Cardinals family," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "Oscar was an amazing talent with a bright future who was taken from us well before his time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends tonight."
Taveras was behind the wheel of a red 2014 Chevrolet Camaro in the city of Puerto Plata, about 215 miles north of the Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo, when his car hit a tree on the Sosua-Cabarete freeway at 7:40 p.m. ET, according to the report issued by Brigade General Francisco Romero Lopez of the Northern Regional National Police. Taveras died of multiple injuries while receiving care at the Sosua Cabarete Medical Center, the report said.
Taveras was not carrying identification, but his family confirmed it was him. The report also states Arvelos died from cranial and thoracic traumas, as diagnosed by the resident doctor at Cabarete Medical Center.
Taveras' funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in his hometown of Sosua, D.R., and memorial services were planned for Monday and Tuesday, according to Aaron Rodriguez, who manages the Cardinals' complex in the Dominican Republic. St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak left for the D.R. on Monday and will be among those representing the Cardinals there.
The news stunned Mozeliak, as well as Taveras' teammates.
"I first met Oscar when he was 16 years old 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," the general manager said.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny issued a statement on Monday morning.
"I was asked last night to give some words regarding the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, but I just simply couldn't.
"First of all, it felt like a bad dream that could not be real, and when reality kicked in, my words didn't even seem to make sense. To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement. To talk about the potential of his abilities seemed to be untimely. All I wanted to do was get the guys together and be with our baseball family. I know the hurt that comes along with buying into the brotherhood of a baseball team. That hurt is just as powerful as the joys that come with this life. Not to say it is even close to the depth of pain his true family is going through, but the pain itself is just as real. The ache is deep because the relationships were deep, and forged through time and trials.
"To the many fans who have already reached out with condolences, and to the many more who are in mourning, thank you for taking these players in, like they are one of your own. This level of care is what sets our fans apart.
"In my opinion, the word "love" is the most misused, and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes. But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does. You will be missed, Oscar."
The tragic loss was felt throughout baseball, just as Game 5 of the World Series was broadcast to millions of homes across the world. Taveras' death was announced early in the game and quickly spread on social media.
Giants outfielder Juan Perez, who met Taveras in 2009 in the Dominican Winter League, was in tears in the dugout in San Francisco. He pointed to the sky as a tribute to his friend when he reached third base in the eighth inning after hitting a two-run double and advancing on an error.
"It's tough. He was a really close friend of mine," said Perez, who heard the news during the game in the trainer's room near the dugout. "I know his family pretty good. I know his mom, his dad, his brothers. We were really close. We played together in Winter Ball. It's a huge loss, not only for all his family, for all his teammates and the people that care about him."
Commissioner Bud Selig dedicated the game to the late couple.
"All of us throughout Major League Baseball are in mourning this evening, shocked by the heartbreaking news of the accident involving Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend in the Dominican Republic," Selig said in a statement. "Oscar, a young member of the Baseball family, was full of promise and at the dawn of a wonderful career in our game, evident in his game-tying home run against the Giants exactly two weeks ago.
"With heavy hearts, tonight we play Game 5 of the 2014 World Series in the memory of these two young people. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of both individuals, as well as to Oscar's teammates and the entire Cardinals organization."
The Major League Baseball Players Association also grieved the loss of one of its own, as well as someone dear to Taveras.
"We are very saddened to learn of the news that a car accident has claimed the life of Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend in the Dominican Republic," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in statement. "Oscar had a very promising future, on and off the field, and this news is heartbreaking on many levels. It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and to lose one so young is devastating news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of both, as well as to the St. Louis Cardinals organization and Oscar's many fans in the United States and the Dominican Republic."
The Cardinals signed Taveras as an amateur free agent on Nov. 15, 2008, out of the Dominican Republic when he was 16.
By 2011, Taveras solidified his reputation as a special talent: He hit .386 with a .444 on-base percentage and a .584 slugging percentage at Class A Quad Cities in the Midwest League. He moved up to Double-A Springfield in the Texas League and hit .321 with 23 home runs, 94 RBIs and a .572 slugging percentage.
He was the Texas League Player of the Year in 2012 and he was selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game in both 2012 and 2013. A high ankle sprain limited his time at Triple-A Memphis in 2013, but he still went into 2014 as MLB.com's No. 2 prospect.
He was hitting .325 with a .524 slugging percentage at Memphis when he was called up to the Major Leagues at the end of May. He made his Major League debut on May 31 and hit his first home run in his second at-bat off of Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit in the Cardinals' 2-0 victory.
He was sent back down on June 19, recalled on June 30 and ended up playing in 80 games for the Cardinals. He hit .239 with three home runs and 22 RBIs. He was on the Cardinals postseason roster and hit his memorable home run in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Giants.
Then Taveras waved to the crowd one final time.
Taveras' final tweet came nine days later: "Thanks for all the fan support!"