In life there are many firsts you will always remember. Your first kiss. Your first car. We can add to the list the first time we witnessed Oscar Taveras hit a home run.
For me, it was April 4, 2014. The Memphis Redbirds were in Des Moines, playing the Iowa Cubs at Sec Taylor Field. It was cold that day. The high temperature was 42 degrees. Even though I knew better, I got to the park early in the hopes of catching batting practice—more specifically, Taveras taking BP. But there was no BP on the field that day. It was just too cold for such an endeavor.
By first pitch, the temperature had sunk to about 40 degrees. Randal Grichuk attempted to insulate himself from the cold by dressing up like Storm Shadow, with a white cowl underneath his jersey that made him look ridiculous if not feel warm in temperatures that soon dipped into the 30s.
The players looked like Little Leaguers that day. It was too cold to play, but it wasn't raining so play they must. The Redbirds sent Angel Castro to the mound and the Triple-A Cubs took swings at his offerings that had all the want and desire of a lineup of sleepwalkers. In their defense, it was too cold to be sitting outside drinking a beer, let alone trying to swing a bat and hit an orb of leather, stitching, twine, and cork traveling 90-mph. Every ball-to-bat contact looked like it stung the batters hands.
Taveras struck out looking in his first plate appearance. Dare I say that the most otherworldly of swingers didn't much look like he wanted to be hacking that frigid night. But Taveras's spot in the lineup next came around to the lead-off the top of the fourth. He took the first pitch for a called strike. The slugger then uncoiled on the second offering. The crack that resulted from Taveras's swing meeting baseball made me vocalize "Ooh" to no one in particular (since I was sitting alone in a section of seats seven rows behind the plate). I thought Taveras had ripped a double over the right fielder's head, but I was wrong. The line drive just kept going. It was as if, by swatting the pitch with his bat, Taveras had given the ball afterburners. The equal and opposite reaction of Taveras barreling the baseball was for it to sail into the right-field bleachers for a homer. As I write this post, I'm still a bit in awe of how the liner off Taveras's bat carried over the wall.
Saturday at Busch Stadium gave us another first: Taveras's initial MLB home run. And what a dinger it was. It was everything Taveras can be. The hand-eye coordination, vicious swing, barrel to ball, and brio to hold the pose on his followthrough. In Bull Durham, Nuke LaLoosh wanted to announce his presence with authority. Taveras did as LaLoosh desired in a way that seemed to have been penned by a Hollywood screenwriter. Except a movie studio probably would have found the rain falling as Taveras rounded the bases a bit too reminiscent of The Natural.
Taveras isn't Roy Hobbs. The 22-year-old Dominican's talent is preternatural. A homer in his second MLB at-bat doesn't guarantee a long and productive career let alone provide an assurance that he'll be on 25-man roster once Matt Adams returns from the disabled list. What Taveras gave us with that majestic homer on Saturday wasn't a promise of what will come, but a glimpse of what might be. The future could be very bright indeed.