Players, Hitchcock shocked when news broke of
Cardinals' outfielder's passing, reflect on how precious life is
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis sports community is in unison again Monday but for reasons they'd rather not have to deal with.
When news broke Sunday night of the tragic death of Cardinals prized outfield prospect Oscar Taveras, it was shock to everyone, including Blues players and coaches.
Captain David Backes said he was watching the World Series between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants and saw Taveras' picture and news flash on his TV screen and Backes said he had, "Just chills down my body.
"You're reading stuff on twitter ... I couldn't even muster out a tweet," Backes said after practice Monday before the team departed for Dallas. "A 22-year-old kid with a world in front of him ... you can forget the baseball stuff. He had a lot of life to live. Just terrible news. It hits home when it's in St. Louis and the St. Louis family. Thoughts and prayers to him and his family and the Cardinal family. I've thankfully not been in the position like that, but you're empathy and sympathy is definitely with those guys right now trying to make sense of it."
Taveras, along with his 18-year-old girlfriend, died in car crash outside his hometown of Sosua in the Dominican Republic. He had returned home to spend time with family and friends before heading out to play winter ball prior to spring training next season.
Taveras homered in his first big-league game against the Giants, and what turned out to be his final at-bat at Busch Stadium came in the National League Championship Series against the Giants, a game-tying home run in Game 2 in the seventh inning.
"It's terrible, it's terrible news," Blues' T.J. Oshie said. "I was shocked. I didn't realize how young he was. It's tough times in St. Louis right now. Thoughts go out to his family and teammates and friends. It's got to be a tough time.
"I lost two family members this summer as well. It's been an up-and-down, roller coaster type of year, but you never want to see something like that, especially with how young and promising as he was."
Not only is Ken Hitchcock the Blues' coach, but at 62-years-old, he's in many ways like a father figure to the players on the team.
"As you get older, you get a little more paranoid about it," Hitchcock said. "We'll come off a charter and I'll worry about if somebody drives by me on the highway. I worry about that stuff. I worry about it every time I get off the plane. We get off planes at two, three, four o'clock in the morning ... you don't know. You feel secure when they're in the environment coming to the practice or they're going to the game rink or they're at home. But there's all kinds of situations where ours is a business late at night and you worry about that. As you get older, you worry about it more and more. When I first started coaching, I didn't worry about that stuff, but as you mature and you see things that happen, you definitely have your antenna up all the time now.
"That's tough. That's tough on anybody. A young player like that who's so highly thought of. Obviously, your career's in front of (you). It's kind of a family's organization's worst nightmare when you see something like that. It's devastating. I think from our standpoint, you pause and reflect and know that we've got players the same age as him. It's a tough pill for anybody to swallow. We feel terrible for the family, his girlfriend's family and things like that. When you're on a team and something like that happens, it just affects everybody. It's kind of heartbreaking to be honest with you."
The Blues know a thing or two about deaths in the team family, with most recently, Pavol Demitra coming to mind, along with Doug Wickenheiser and Bob Gassoff
"A new guy that's just breaking into the league, people are talking about losing a great baseball player," Backes said of Taveras. "For me, this goes well beyond that. Baseball ... sports is a small window in our life. We're very grateful to be playing, but in the end, he had a girlfriend, obviously a family he cared enough about to go back to his hometown in the off-season. You can't even think of words to say to make it any better.
"It's yet another reminder how short life can be and not to take any days or things for granted that you're able to have. We've got another great day today, a beautiful day outside. Unfortunately, we're one short in the St. Louis sports family today."