St. Louis Cardinals rookie Oscar Taveras died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic on Sunday afternoon. He was 22 years old.
The outfielder and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, were killed in an accident in Puerto Plata on the north coast of the island where Taveras was born.
According to an Associated Press report, Taveras was driving his red 2014 Chevrolet Camaro when the accident occurred. He was not carrying identification, but his family confirmed his identity, the AP reported.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny issued a statement Monday morning, beginning by saying he thought about making a statement Sunday night, but that he "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," Matheny said. "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.
"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."
MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement Sunday: "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. 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."
Signed by the Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent on Nov. 15, 2008, Taveras appeared in 436 games over six years in the Minor Leagues, during which time he hit .320 with 53 homers and 324 RBIs.
St. Louis' Minor League Player of the Year in 2012, Taveras made his Major League debut on May 31 and batted .239 in 80 appearances with the Cardinals. He also went 3-for-7 in the postseason earlier this month, clubbing a solo homer in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Giants on Oct. 12.
"We are all stunned and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of the youngest member of the Cardinals family," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a press release. "Oscar was an amazing talent with a bright future who was taken from us before his time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends tonight."
Cardinals' senior vice president and general manager John Mozeliak added, "I simply can't believe it. 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."
Taveras began his professional career with the Cardinals' Dominican Summer League affiliate in 2009 as a 17-year-old. He batted .303 in his sophomore year between the team's Gulf Coast League team and Rookie-level Johnson city, and he hit .386 with Quad Cities in 78 Midwest League games in his first full season in 2011.
The right fielder, who many scouts projected to be a future middle-of-the-lineup hitter, smacked a career-high 23 homers in 124 Double-A games with Springfield in 2012 en route to being named the Texas League Player of the Year. He then appeared in 46 Triple-A contests with Memphis in an injury-stricken 2013 campaign during which time he was ranked as the top prospect in the game.
The 6-foot-2 left-hander entered Opening Day as the top Cardinals prospect and ended the season No. 2 overall in MLB.com's Top 100 behind only Byron Buxton, and he hit .318 in 62 Pacific Coast League games with the Redbirds before getting called up to St. Louis this summer.
A two-time Futures Game selection in 2012 and 2013, Taveras was also a MiLB.com Organization All-Star in 2011 and 2012.
"I'm devastated and heartbroken," said Phillip Wellman, manager of the Double-A Arkansas Travelers who worked with Taveras when he served as Springfield's hitting coach in 2012. "It's unbelievable. I don't know any other words to use. I'm so sad.
"He was tremendously special. Right now, I've not thought about how special he was as a baseball player because my thoughts are about what a great human being he was and what a great spirit he was. Just how much fun he had playing the game and living. It is just a sad, sad loss."
Wellman, whom Taveras called his "American father," last spoke with Taveras two weeks ago when he texted him to congratulate him for his pinch-hit homer off Jean Machi in the playoffs. "He said, 'Thank you, my father,'" Wellman recalled. "He knew I cared about him as a person. He was an amazing spirit and that plus his obvious talent on the baseball field makes this tough to swallow.
"I never saw him get down. I would see him go 0-for-4 and I'd ask him how he was and he'd say, 'I'm fine, Papi, it's just one game.' I feel like I can't catch my breath, it's still weighing on my heart. Everybody is devastated. I don't think anything in the world can prepare you for this and that puts the world into perspective."