There will come a time when I will write again about contract extensions, trade targets and free agents, but I'm not ready. Many pieces have been written, here and elsewhere, many of them incredibly moving, trying to grasp for meaning, explain the unexplainable and strive for perspective, but I'm not done. I'm not done dreaming about a player I was convinced would be the next Cardinals' great. A player whose struggles, and the substantial criticism that came with it, only strengthened my resolve to support him. I'm not done thinking about this tragedy, not done writing about this loss, and I'm not done looking, both forward and back, at the pain that separates yet still retains the capacity to bring us together.
On Monday, I could muster only a handful of tweets.
Baseball's triumphs and tragedies are a fiction, inventions created to remove us from our own lives. It is an outlet, an escape. Baseball helps us experience emotions we are sometimes incapable of feeling in our own lives. The promise of a new day, a new game can help get us out of bed when we feel numb to the world. We jump up and down, we hug strangers, collectively we go crazy watching a game.
The game is ours, but the players are not. A career was not stolen from us because it was never ours to begin with. For me, the passing of Oscar Taveras is not a reminder of my own mortality, but that baseball is a game. It's a game I love, giving me much joy and anguish, but none of it compares to the pain family and friends of Oscar Taveras currently feel. I spent so much of the season angry whenever Oscar Taveras was not in the game, anger I directed at Mike Matheny. Next season, when Oscar remains absent, my anger will shift to sadness, but I will have nowhere to direct that sadness.
Instead, just as I have always done, I will funnel my emotions into the game I love, losing myself a few hours at a time. But when the game is over and I return to my life, I need to remember that the players also return to theirs. They have many of the same problems, experience the same emotions we all do. We have baseball in common, but the game is not what links us.
I will always remember Oscar Taveras. He brought excitement and joy to me with the way he played. His swing, his smile, his love for the game. Those were his gifts to us, and the memories, forever seen in a new light, are ours to keep. I want more, but my wants pale in comparison to the needs of his friends and family. Their grieving has just begun. RIP Oscar.
Shock comes first. Then sadness. Then guilt. Guilt because the death of a stranger reminds me of grief-stricken friends who just lost a father or a brother and the death merited a phone call or two, maybe a quick chat, but not the consuming sadness over the tragic death of someone I will never meet. These thoughts separate me from the loss of the stranger I watched from afar. Families everywhere are mourning their own losses, crying over their dearly departed. His death is but one of many. Then I see a picture.
Carlos Martinez talks about his good friend Oscar Taveras at a cafe in Sosua, DR. Taveras will be buried today. pic.twitter.com/z3hDxfaCqE— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) October 28, 2014
Shame comes next. For trying to pretend that one loss, however tragic, can be minimized, rationalized. I see the pain in his expression and accept that I do not, cannot possibly truly understand that pain. Seeing that pain triggers memories of my own. I remember my pain. Times I have searched for answers and found none. Times my sadness immobilized me. Times my bleary eyes have faced the day as the world swirled on around me, indifferent to my selfish desires. I look at the picture again. And now I'm crying. Are my tears for him?
Oscar Taveras lived his dream. Is that enough? Is that our memory? The dream-reaching memory is wonderful, but too idealistic. The truth is, "Taveras got to live his dream, if only for a little while. It's not much, but it's something." That "something" is not enough to create an enduring memory. So we shift to what might have been, but what might have been is not good enough. Oscar Taveras might have been injured. He might have fallen short of his promise. He might have left as a free agent or been traded. He might have been merely average. What might have been falls short.
What should have been allows us to dream. What should have been aligns neatly with the dreams I entertained before the season started, the dreams I refused to give up on despite early struggles and a seat on the bench. The dreams that seemed so close so often. He should have won batting titles, MVPs, brought home championships. He should have been the next great star. He should have taken annual tours around the warning track to begin the season, eventually wearing a red jacket as he did so. He should have been the one who stayed. He should have 18 and TAVERAS nestled between DEAN and BROCK. But no matter how much we reshape, mold, and allow them to crystallize, dreams are not memories.
I remember that home run in the rain. I remember that smile. I remember the shot that tied it in Game 2 of the NLCS. One day I won't remember the opponent in the rain. The pitcher in the playoff game will fade from memory, and I might not recall whether it was Game 2 or Game 3, whether the game was tied or the Cardinals trailed. When all those memories escape me, what remains?
That majestic swing will stay with me. It was beautiful. It always will be.