St. Louis – As the Cardinals took the field to begin the top half of the first inning in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, left fielder Marcell Ozuna stopped at the first-base line about 20 feet behind the bag.
He crouched down and wrote in the dirt. When he rose from the dirt, he clapped and pointed both hands toward the sky before a quick hop. He then jogged out to his position.
Ozuna was paying tribute to one of his dearest friends. Five years ago should have marked the arrival of the next generation in St. Louis.
On Oct. 12, 2014, a 22-year-old right fielder stepped into the box as a pinch hitter for the Cardinals. Óscar Taveras hit a game-tying home run off Giants reliever Jean Machi in Game 5 of the NLCS.
St. Louis was eliminated in the NLCS in 2014, but the home run from Taveras was the bright light of promise at the end of the season.
Taveras appeared to be a five-tool star. Born in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, he signed with the Cardinals at 16. After five years in the minors, he was on the cusp of becoming an everyday player in the big leagues. He was the top-ranked prospect in the Cardinals’ organization and was ranked as high as the number three overall prospect in baseball.
Two weeks later, Taveras was dead. He got behind the wheel while intoxicated in the Dominican Republic and wrecked his car, killing himself and his girlfriend. The news of his passing broke as the 2014 World Series was preparing for Game 5.
One of the players who felt the loss most was Taveras’ dear friend Ozuna, who signed with the Marlins exactly nine months before Taveras signed with the Cardinals. The Santo Domingo native grew up playing in the same league in the Dominican Republic as Taveras. The two were incredibly close.
Taveras homered in his first and last games in St. Louis: in his debut on May 31 and in the Cardinals’ last home playoff game against the Giants. The Cardinals had hoped to build around Taveras in their outfield. The dominoes in the wake of his passing eventually led to the team acquiring Ozuna from the Marlins before the 2018 season.
For Ozuna, this year’s NLCS is where the two should have been playing together.
“[Playing in the NLCS with Taveras] would have been amazing because this is the stage that we were waiting for a long time,” he said. “I have the opportunity to play here now.”
Featured Image: Scott Kane / Getty Images Sport
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