We know them by their numbers. We know them by the numbers on the back of their uniforms, by the numbers on the TV screen, by the numbers that flicker past our eyes on the computer monitors and cell phones. The statistics; the scouting reports.
This is how we knew Oscar Taveras.
Oscar Taveras, #18;
Oscar Taveras, June 19, 1992;
Oscar Taveras, .330/.382/.536 in 1439 minor league at-bats over 371 games;
Oscar Taveras, .239/.279/.312 in 234 major league at-bats;
Oscar Taveras, 70 bat; 60 power; 50 speed; 60 arm
Oscar Taveras, October 26, 2014
We knew him by the accolades, by the batting titles (Midwest League 2011), by the MVP awards (Texas League 2012), by the top prospect rankings.
We knew him by the images etched in the neurons of our brains and the clay of our minds by emotional moments, the enthrallment of a city and a state and a team and a community in the quick flash of victory.
This is how we knew Oscar Taveras, how we were just getting to know Oscar Taveras, and how we will remember Oscar Taveras. We will remember him with these images and numbers.
But few of us actually knew Oscar Taveras as what he was: a human being.
When this ill wind blew through the baseball world last night, there was of course the expected out-pouring of genuine surprise and shock and grief, from teammates and opponents and fans alike.
And as awful and real as those emotions are, any grief we feel as fans, any loss about what might have been, is a mere shadow compared to the depth of loss experienced by those closest to Oscar: his family and loved ones and his teammates.
Oscar was a real flesh-and-blood human, a being of mind and heart and spirit. The same is equally true of his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo, just as valuable and real a person as Oscar and just as loved. Edilia is not to be considered an afterthought or minor detail of the story.
There's nothing that can be said to make such tragedies easier, no philosophical trick to mitigate the pain or clever soapy rhetoric to explain it away.
All we can really do when these tragedies strike is to remember again that the players on the field are just as vulnerable and fragile as we all are, that in the end we truly are all equal.
All we can do is take some time to take stock of our own lives, be conscious of the preciousness of each day, and cherish the ones around us.