I didn't mean for it to happen. I wasn't even driving. I was telling my colleague where my phone's GPS app told me we needed to turn to make it to the building at which we had business on Tuesday morning. Following those directions, we wound up on West River Drive, the road that runs between downtown Davenport and the Mississippi River. I looked up and there it was: Modern Woodsmen Park, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits, in the morning October sunlight.
The sight caught me by surprise even though it shouldn't have. I've been to Davenport and Modern Woodsmen Park dozens of times. I don't need GPS to get to the town or the ballpark, but the GPS app's narrow focus and our ultimate destination being several blocks away from the stadium had my mind elsewhere. My focus snapped back to what I had hoped to get off my mind during the trip. It was at this ballpark, on the west bank of the Mississippi, where I first saw Oscar Taveras play baseball.
Taveras's death hit me hard right at the intersection of real-life and my escape. Superman has his Fortress of Solitude; I have baseball. When I was a child, baseball cards and the stats that adorn their backs were what I occupied myself with after a bad day. This summer, when my grandma was in the hospital, placed in hospice, and eventually passed away, it was Cardinals baseball and VEB that offered a welcome reprieve from thoughts of sickness and death. But there was no such escape this week. Taveras being killed in a car wreck tore down the wall between real-life and baseball. To think about my favorite game and the team I love was to think about death. My usual, comfortable distraction was inaccessible.
Before leaving for Davenport, I remarked to a friend that I was looking forward to the drive with two colleagues who don't even know Taveras's name. The conversation would keep my mind occupied and away from thoughts of the 22-year-old's untimely passing. It hadn't even occurred to me that we'd be driving past the ballpark, but I'm glad we did. The sight conjured up memories of a younger, skinnier Taveras—before the prospect-list buzz—playing ball. Instead of pondering Taveras's death and wondering what might have been, my mind filled with memories of his incredible minor-league career.
In Bull Durham, there's the scene when Nuke LaLoosh seeks out Crash Davis to tell his catcher that the big-league club has promoted Nuke to pitch in the majors. In response, Crash sarcastically wishes Nuke the good fortune of making the cover of Sports Illustrated or a cereal box. Nuke doesn't understand why Crash is upset, tells him that he wants to celebrate, and invites his catcher to leave the dump of a pool hall, which upsets the pool hall's owner, Sandy Grimes, and leads to this poetry:
Crash: Nuke, you know who this is? This is Sandy Grimes. Sandy Grimes hit .371 in Louisville in 1965.
Crash: I'm sorry. He hit .376. That's a career, man. In any league.
Sandy: You got that right.
When I first saw Taveras in 2011, he was playing in the Midwest League. He hit .386/.444/.584 (.460 wOBA) over 347 plate appearances over the course of that season. His birthday falling in June, Taveras was 18 for about half of those PAs. Baseball America ranked him the no. 73 prospect in baseball the following offseason; Baseball Prospectus, no. 23.
Taveras graduated to Double-A the next season and hit .321/.380/.572 (.411 wOBA). He won the Texas League Player of the Year award. Baseball America slotted him as the third ranked prospect in all of baseball during the subsequent winter and Baseball Prospectus put him second.
His 2013 season was cut short by an ankle injury that required season-ending surgery, the lingering effects of which hindered him during spring training the following year. He once again played in Triple-A in 2014. Taveras spent parts of two seasons in Memphis, hitting .313/.358/.485 (.370 wOBA).
Over the course of Taveras's minor-league career, he batted a combined .320/.376/.516 (.391 wOBA) over 1,860 PAs.
That's a career, man. In any league.
Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated Taveras's birthday.