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There was a time, probably a couple of decades ago, where a popular t-shirt read “Baseball is Life … the rest is just details.” It had an image of a baseball in the middle, and there were other variations of it as well (Tennis is Life, Golf is Life, etc.) I don’t know that baseball was the most popular permutation of this concept, but I can say that it was the one I noticed the most.
At about the same time this shirt was popular, give or take a few years, I had the occasion to share a toast with an Orthodox Jew. His drink of choice was vodka, and I was at the stage in life where I would drink anything that had booze in it. Before we downed out shots, he made a point of teaching me a traditional Jewish toast: L’ chaim, which means “to life.” And ever since, I use it whenever a toast is called for. It reminded me, and reminds us all, that life is the one thing that we all share at whatever moment the toast is offered.
The sudden, tragic death of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras reminds us that life trumps baseball. If baseball were indeed life, I’d be happy that the team I both despise and am insanely jealous of has lost one of their greatest prospects. But instead, I’m shocked and saddened at the same time.
When you’re 22, as Taveras was at the time of the car accident Saturday that claimed the lives of him and his girlfriend, the future seems to stretch out forever. As it has for so many before him, baseball offered Taveras a chance to live a life filled with fame and glory. And he made some significant strides in that direction as recently as 10 days ago, when he pinch-hit for Peter Bourjos in the ninth inning of game five of the NLCS in San Francisco. Bourjos is a veteran player and Taveras was a rookie, but Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had faith in Taveras with the Cardinals’ season on the line. That speaks volumes to where Taveras was at, as well as the type of future that awaited him.
When Travis Ishikawa hit the walk-off home run that ended the Cardinals’ season in the bottom of the ninth, Taveras was the Cardinal with the best view of it. A World Series appearance in his first year in the majors was not to be, but with the Cardinals organization being what it is, future World Series appearances seemed almost a certainty for Oscar Taveras.
But life had other ideas. The details of the fatal crash aren’t yet known, and will almost certainly come out in the days ahead. But for now, it’s enough to say that what once seemed so promising has all been taken away. Life trumps baseball, just as it always has before.
To everyone reading this, whether they are a baseball fan or not, I say “L’chaim.” May we all appreciate what we have, for we never know how or when it will end for us.
Author’s note: Here’s a link to an interview I did with Steve Bortstein of Fox Sports New Mexico just seven months ago. The first three minutes are a discussion of the Cardinals, and I mentioned Taveras as a rookie with impact potential. I very much regret that I won’t be able to call his name again in the future.