This is not why we watch baseball.
Baseball is supposed to be an escape from the terrible things in life. Yes, baseball aggravates us. It hurts us. It puts us on the edge our seats and then it swiftly pushes us back, crushing us with disappointment and regret. But in the end, it is just a game. We let ourselves care so much about baseball because it’s something safe to care about. As much as losing the NLCS hurt, it didn’t really mean anything. Life went on, just as it had before, with all those negative emotions vented off into something as ultimately meaningless as a game where grown men hit leather balls with wooden sticks.
We don’t watch baseball for moments like this.
Oscar Taveras was 22 years old and one of the most promising young players in baseball. The fact that he had a sweet swing doesn’t make his death any more tragic, but it does make it more familiar. That swing is the reason I’ve known about Oscar Taveras for more than four years, even though he just made his Major League debut in 2014. I’ve anticipated seeing him develop into a productive ML player since 2010, when he hit .303/.342/.485 as an 18 year old in the rookie leagues. He became something of a household name among prospect watchers the next season, putting up a 1.028 OPS at single-A. His development since had been a bit rocky, but he always maintained that amazing swing.
God damn it, I shouldn’t be writing this right now. I shouldn’t be talking about Oscar Taveras’s career in the past tense. He was just getting started. He had barely even begun to recognize his own potential. Not just in baseball, but in life. As much as I want to eulogize him, to describe everything he was to the St. Louis fans and everything he could have been, it just isn’t right. This isn’t what baseball is about.
The reason we watch baseball is because baseball has rules. There are nine innings. Twenty-seven outs. Three strikes. Four balls. The foul lines define the field of play, blazing out a tiny patch of grass in which outcomes are dictated by well-understood principles. When your team loses, it makes sense. There is always a reason. The pitcher struggled. The lineup was silent. The manager made some head-scratching decisions. But it all comes down to rules we understand and a series of systems, built one atop another, that creates meaning and purpose where there is none.
Then something like this happens. Life doesn’t have rules. There are no innings, outs, strikes, balls, nothing. Life is chaos, unbounded by the lines we draw upon it.
And it’s fucking bullshit.
No one should die at 22. No parents should have to bury their child. If life was baseball, this would be a foul. An error. A balk. A play under review that should be reversed because this should not happen.
I turned 22 in 2006, just a week after the Cardinals won the World Series. It is recent enough that I can still remember it, but long enough ago that I know I was a different person. I wasn’t married yet, though we had set the date.
If I died at the exact age Taveras did–day and date–I would have died on the day of my wedding.
But this isn’t about me and it shouldn’t be about me. I’m still here. Someone else isn’t.
Last night, I picked up my laptop to get to work on the next installment in World War K. I spent the last week deciding how I would handle the fact the Royals won the AL pennant, and were in competition for the World Series trophy. But I decided to open twitter and look at the news.
Fuck the news. Fuck the world. This isn’t how it should be. Baseball is supposed to have rules. That’s why we watch baseball. We want to understand loss. We want to compartmentalize into a realm where the rules are fair and just. But that’s not real loss. Losing a baseball game is nothing.
I didn’t know Oscar Taveras. And I’m not going to say that I felt like I knew him. I only knew his swing, his stat line, his scouting reports. That’s not who a person is. Whatever I feel is just a confused, uncertain speck compared to what his teammates, friends, and family must be going through.
Fuck it all. This isn’t why we watch baseball. I’m sorry, Oscar. We shouldn’t have to remember you so soon.