ST. LOUIS — Even though three and a half months have passed since Oscar Taveras’ tragic death, his presence permeated the Cardinals’ Winter Warm Up.
At the base of the escalators taking fans and media up to the event, a light shone on the marble floor of the Hyatt in downtown St. Louis, displaying “OT” with the number 18 below it wrapped in circle. Players wear a black pin on their shirts with the same symbol, a reminder during every interview that the Cardinal family is one short.
Sunday, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. opened his presser by explaining the team will wear a patch with “OT” in the middle to honor Taveras in 2015, and the organization plans to renovate a baseball field in the young player’s hometown of Sosua in the Dominican Republic.
“They have an existing ball field, but we really want to renovate it, make it first-rate,” DeWitt said, explaining the field will be named after Taveras. “[We want to] give the young kids down there a chance to dream like Oscar did of maybe someday playing in the big leagues and getting their start on that field.”
Taveras’ impact on the organization was clear the first time players were around media following his death. DeWitt was emotional when discussing his passing, describing the shock he felt when he heard the news.
“Disbelief, that’s your first reaction,” he said. “It was a tragic loss of a young man who had a bright future and was living his dream. I just felt horrible for him and his family. His girlfriend and her family.”
Carlos Martinez will wear number 18 next season to honor Taveras, and the team will also honor him permanently in the park, though details on how have not been finalized. However, DeWitt made it clear that the field in the Dominican Republic—built in conjunction with Cardinals Care—is perhaps the most meaningful part of the gesture.
“There’s so much outreach and following for Oscar down there, that I think this will be a nice symbol of what he meant to that area,” he said.
Taveras is the third active Cardinals player to die in the franchise’s history, following Darryl Kyle and Josh Hancock. Kyle died of heart complications, and Hancock died after crashing his truck while intoxicated.
With Taveras’ toxicology report indicating he was also drunk at the time of his crash, the Cardinals are acutely aware of the need to educate players on the dangers they face off the field.
“We’ve done this in the past, but we’ll make a special effort to do even more in the future,” DeWitt said. “After Josh, we changed a couple things with road trips and drinking in the clubhouse—that sort of thing. Made an effort to educate players of the potential consequences of driving while impaired.”
The team has a program that allows players access to a ride to avoid such things. All a player needs to do is call, and transport will be provided. Still, many rookies have independent wealth and are without parental supervision for the first time in their lives. Most college students would have far more disastrous first semesters without the structure provided by the university.
Because of this, DeWitt said early and oft-repeated information is paramount.
“The better education you have, the better chance you have of avoiding these things in the future,” he said.
Sunday, a video tribute to Taveras was played in the main banquet hall for fans.