Cardinals: Recovering and Learning from Oscar Taveras’ death

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Cardinals: Recovering and Learning from Oscar Taveras’ death

| October 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

*There is insensitive material in this article. I both criticize and joke about Oscar. If there is a chance you might get offended when reading about Oscar, don’t read on. Don’t bother telling me about it either. You’ve been warned.

I was driving through Atlanta when my phone buzzed. It was a Twitter troll, kindly informing me that the Cardinals were a trash organization that honored a murderer. I withstood the urge to respond, though responses filled my head, naturally. First and foremost is the simple understanding of definitions. Murder is premeditated and intentional. Oscar Taveras is not a murderer. The suggestion is simply absurd.

It’s not defending him to say so. It’s just the simple definition of the word. Oscar Taveras never murdered anybody, but Oscar Taveras was an idiotic fool who completely destroyed two lives, and damaged many more. Why some have a problem saying as much disturbs me.

“Princess Diana’s funeral was the saddest day of my life. That, and when my sister died.” – Kelly Kapoor (The Office)

I make it a purpose to not be upset by celebrity deaths, especially when the celebrities choose to do it to themselves. You won’t find me mourning Phillip Seymour Hoffman throwing away his life and scarring his kids while lying dead on a floor with a needle sticking out of his arm. I thought he was a brilliant actor, but I have enough concern in my life than to pause for another dumb celebrity. There are 365 days each year, and we spend too many of them lamenting and mourning the choices of morons. I won’t live my life that way, and I don’t understand the multitudes of people that do.

I’ve felt the real pain of losing real loved ones. Everyone has, or will have this pain in their life, and they won’t be ready for it. I simply have no time, or room in my heart, for dumb celebrities.

Like anyone else, losing Robin Williams gave a selfish bit of sadness – yeah, ok, I was looking forward to another Doubtfire movie – and there are a lot of nuances about depression and his particular condition that can validly make one argue against him being dumb, but still he wasn’t a loved one. He wasn’t a true, close, valued part of my life. So rather than to go into a multi-day shock that I saw so many others go into, I did what I always do to gain perspective: I made jokes.

Robin Williams is jealous of how far that pitch hung.

Jokes are my defense mechanism. They keep me grounded. They keep me with the perspective that I hope always to have. Bad things happen. The faster that we can truly move on from those bad things, the happier a life we can lead. My time on this planet is limited. I have no idea by how much. When it’s time for me to go – ok, be sad for a night. I’ll love the attention. But if people aren’t making jokes about me, if people aren’t smiling, what an immediate waste my death will be.

That’s why, as I sat refreshing twitter that night, going through the same shock and disbelief as everyone else, also in my brain denying the truth until it was absolutely confirmed, Oscar jokes were flying into my head.

I used to be a part of the @mikemathenyy account, a now defunct Twitter account that parodied Mike Matheny (apparently so well that Twitter shut it down because it wasn’t clear enough it was a parody). This account was all about the jokes, and the easiest and longest gag was about Mike’s handling of Oscar Taveras.

It’s almost taboo to talk about the 2014 season and the great Matheny-Taveras relationship now stored in the back of our heads in the wake of the tragedy. The Cardinals had one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, and, as a team, couldn’t hit. He made the team, but continued to sit behind Allen Craig. And while Oscar wasn’t doing great, that wasn’t unusual for rookies in their first taste of the big leagues. He needed time to adjust.

In the meanwhile, Allen Craig only got worse, but never got the bench. Mike was determined to run him out there. It was clear. The potential didn’t matter. Allen Craig was going to play in front of Oscar Taveras – who was the absolute future of the Cardinals.

Then Mo intervened and traded Craig away. A move that many saw as forcing Mike’s hand.

It didn’t.

Which his average below .200 in limited duty, again, not unusual for a 21 year old rookie, Oscar’s numbers began to rise. He began to adjust to big league life. And Mike didn’t notice.

Randal Grichuk started playing over him, thanks in part to a hot 4 or 5 game stretch that overrode the rest of the flaws in his game. Grichuk is great, but there simple wasn’t any reason to think he was better than Oscar last year. Grichuk started every game of the post season and went 6-35 with 1 walk. Oscar Taveras went 3-7, all off of the bench.

It was strange.

Of course, there were also the whispers to the media about how Oscar approached the game. He didn’t do things the right way. After the season he was given “advice” on how to prepare for the next season.

At @MikeMathenyy we lampooned all of this.

I had offseason tweets all planned.

Halloween is here. My kids are dresses as the scariest thing of all. A lineup card with Oscar’s name on it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I’m thankful I have Randal Grichuk to play RF next year.

Got Oscar for Secret Santa, going to give a gift to Allen Craig instead.

Bought Oscar Elvis’s Greatest Hits for Xmas. Think he really needs to understand the Memphis scene.

Watching the ball drop! Only 3 more months until Oscar is reassigned to Memphis!

Instead, my brain was coming up with far darker tweets.

Now you see why I buried Oscar in the lineup all season – development.

I hope Oscar’s final resting place is right where he belongs. Memphis.

Maybe had Oscar gone that fast while he was playing baseball, we’d be in the World Series.

His car against the tree was the hardest thing Oscar hit with wood all year.

Like I said. It’s my defense mechanism. It’s my reminder that if I can get to a place where I can tell jokes, then I can recover from the pain. Then I can move on.

I realize even a year later these tweets will appall some, maybe even most of you. I accept that. I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m truly sorry to have upset you. Know that my intention is never to cause pain. My intention is to take the edge off with a joke.

That’s why I didn’t tweet any of those. @MikeMathenyy wasn’t my account, and I didn’t need the owner getting the backlash. I didn’t need any actual people who knew Oscar reading an insensitive remark. I didn’t need to add to the pain of people who process information differently than I do.

Instead, I went to tweet my sentiments and life view instead.

“Mourn tonight. Tomorrow, make your life better than it was today. Let no one die in vain. And remember, we are the #stlcards. We are family” -@MikeMathenyy

It was put under the Mike account because, well, I screwed up. I meant it to be from me. It would have gotten 3 or 4 favorites. Instead, it got over 1,000 retweets from people who probably thought those were Mike’s actual words. I feel bad for that. They are mine. They are my process with how to deal with bad things, and how to move on from it. It’s the same process that you got angry with just a few paragraphs before.

I have to, because unlike my reputation, I’m not a robot. Often I am an emotional basket case, just usually with a different angle. I can talk about jokes here, but the tweet above is what I’m always striving for. Jokes are my way of doing it. You have yours. It’s all a mask for the sadness and how we deal with it.

My sadness about Oscar wasn’t because it was Oscar, and it wasn’t because he was a Cardinal. It’s because he was a 21 year old, and like many 21 year olds he had all the potential in the world to live a long and wonderful life. And he threw it away.

We read articles about what we might have seen on the baseball diamond, and our perspective is still screwed up.

I’m not sad for us. Fuck us. Fuck baseball fans and Cardinals fans crying about how magical his rain making home run was. Fuck us for our projections and lamenting about how he might have impacted the Cardinals.  His family has to deal with this loss daily. The Arvelo family has to deal with this daily.  There is a child who would have had all the opportunity in the world that instead will never have a memory of his father.

All because Oscar made the decision to drink – not just drink but do so to the point of being 5 times the legal limit – and get into his sports car, and drive in the rain, at night, over slick roads. Edilia saw all of this, and chose to sit next to him.  He then drove at such a rate of speed, it could only be speculated how fast they were going. Think about the exact levels of stupidity you have to have to combine all of these together and still put your foot on the gas pedal. This isn’t just death. Maybe he lives but has a career ending injury. Maybe his injury isn’t career ending, but instead he misses a year. Maybe the pain hampers him for life. How on Earth could this be worth it?

Oscar was an adult. Old enough to drive, to fight in wars, to work professionally, to be a father, a home owner, to do almost everything we allow an adult to do in this world. He should have known better. He is 100% to blame for what happened. He killed himself, and he killed his girlfriend, and frankly we can at least be thankful he hit a tree instead of another car full of completely innocent people. Imagine had your loved one been on the road that night as an adult sped through the rain 500% more drunk than allowed. It’s disgusting. It’s shameful.

Oscar is responsible for his actions entirely, but where were all of his influences? Why is it not drilled into our kids that there is never an acceptable time to do this? Why wasn’t it already ingrained in Oscar’s head to never get into a car if he had been drinking at all?

It’s where it throws me into a flying rage. Is there anyone out there who knew Oscar that doesn’t walk away with the guilt – deserved or not – that they should have done more? I don’t know.

And then there is that damn mirror we all ignore.

What I do know, is that driving is where we make our excuses. Everybody drives impaired. No one turns 18 without knowing someone that has clearly driven drunk. We all love someone who has had, and who will, make such a mistake.

Even if we don’t, we drive tired, with screaming kids, and radio blaring, while we eat food and talk on the phone and adjust our air conditioner, and all of this is done perfectly within legal and moral risk. We can have three drinks, but four makes us not legally sound to drive even though we don’t feel remarkably different. So we slip down society’s slope of gray areas where we treat speed limits like minimums and make excuses about how we are fine. I’m a 200 pound male, so I can handle more. I don’t feel drunk. I only have a short drive. I’ve done this so many times before; I know how to drive drunk.

Perhaps from our guilt knowing that we haven’t always been safe, we allow others to also push the limits. How can I get mad at someone, when I have done the same?

I’ve never driven drunk, but I’ve loved those that had. I didn’t do enough to stop them.

I didn’t learn my lesson. I constantly drive more distracted than necessary. I constantly take risks that are simply not worth it.

But, dammit, I’ll do whatever I can so that my kids never make this mistake. Oscar won’t be a hero to them. They’ll see video of his great home runs, and they’ll see the gruesome picture of his death. People should see and should understand how quickly the greatest and strongest of us can all fall to the dangers of reality. My kids will learn about Oscar’s girlfriend, and how she got in the car, and how they must never, ever get in the car, because life is just too great to ruin it being an idiot kid. They will hear me not speak of Oscar with praise, but with scorn and disgust of everything he trashed one stupid October night.

I don’t know if it will be enough. They’ll make their own decisions. But I won’t run from the truth of Oscar and the truth of the terrible legacy he left. The safety of our loved ones is no time to play to the social niceties. It’s no time to pull punches.

Above all, we must lead by example.

I was driving through Atlanta when my phone buzzed. It was a Twitter troll, kindly informing me that the Cardinals were a trash organization that honored a murderer. I withstood the urge to respond, because in thinking about Oscar, clarity rushed over me. I was driving in freaking Atlanta, and reading twitter. How absolutely painfully, awfully stupid was I? I was risking all of the same things Oscar risked so that I could read some troll trying to get me pissed off.

I put down my phone and progressed down the road. In the next minute a car in the lane to my left pressed the brakes. The car behind it rear ended it without slowing down. Its bumper instantly flew off and landed in front of me. I swerved to onto the shoulder on my right, dodged the bumper and drove off safely to go watch the Cardinals play. I parked my car at the stadium, and before I got out I turned off my Twitter notifications. From now on, the trolls could wait until I was ready.

It wasn’t a tree, and I’m not a famous athlete bubbling with potential, but I do have dreams for myself and my loved ones that aren’t worth the risk my stupid brain sometimes forgets I’m taking. His death will never be worth it. It will never be justified. But like that stupid, misplaced Matheny tweet says, maybe if these incidents really did lead enough of us to make ourselves better people, we could see the silver lining in the storm clouds pierced by that beautiful Oscar home run that made us dream, and the storm clouds that wet the roads of the Dominican Republic the night that dream died.

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