SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) In the last hours of St. Louis Cardinals rookie outfielder Oscar Taveras’ life, a video posted to social media shows him behind the wheel of a flashy new car, grinning alongside his girlfriend.
Back home, living it up, not a care in the world.
A short time later, they both died when he drunkenly crashed his 2014 Chevrolet Camaro along the Dominican Republic’s north coast, where he was vacationing after the baseball season. His blood alcohol level was more than five times the legal limit, according to information released this week.
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Taveras, who had a bright future when he signed with the Cardinals as a teenager in 2008, joins a growing list of baseball players who have died or run afoul of the law in the Dominican Republic upon returning home during major league vacation.
Many come from impoverished communities, and they arrive with money to spend and sports cars at their disposal, seeking to relax and have fun after spending most of the year under the strict surveillance of U.S. clubs. The situation, as it did with Taveras, can sometimes turn deadly.
”I feel a bit guilty,” said Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez, who was Taveras’ childhood friend. ”I told him many times he shouldn’t be drinking and driving, that that wasn’t going to lead to anything good.”
In the past two decades, players including Jose Oliva, Rufino Linares and Jose Uribe have died in car crashes in the Dominican Republic, which has the second-highest traffic-related death rate in the world, with nearly 42 deaths per 100,000 people.
Other players have encountered legal problems.
Former New York Mets pitcher Ambiorix Burgos ran over and killed two women in 2010, although authorities deemed it an accident and did not file charges. Others have been tied to shooting deaths, leading to lengthy criminal proceedings that compromise their eligibility to play.
The majority of players who travel back and forth encounter no controversy. But the situations worry U.S. teams that invest millions of dollars in developing players. The Dominican Republic is the main source of talent outside the U.S., and at the start of the 2014 season, there were 83 Dominicans on major league rosters.
The 30 major league clubs have development academies there. But they have little control over the players when they return home.
Junior Noboa, Arizona Diamondbacks vice president for Latin America and a team representative in the Dominican Republic, said he’ll call a player if he hears about something. But ultimately, the players are on vacation.
”The players are not forced to report to the teams while they’re in the country. They’re on vacation, and unless they have some specific work plan, they have no obligation to report,” said Noboa.
Taveras was scheduled to travel Nov. 5 to the team’s spring training facility in Jupiter, Florida, and then play in the Dominican Winter League. He was considered one of the majors’ top prospects, hitting .239 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 80 games this year.
Police have said that Taveras was driving over the speed limit on a wet road when he lost control. His red Camaro crashed against a tree and was crushed in the front and had twisted metal on the sides.
Drivers in the Dominican Republic face a dangerous mix of pockmarked roads, dilapidated cars and trucks, and swarms of motorcycles. It’s not unusual to see up to five people scrunched atop a motorcycle, cars zooming across lanes, failing to stop at red lights and going against traffic.
Dominican officials believe a lethal mix of alcohol, speed and a blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame for the high traffic-related death rate. The U.S. State Department recommends that tourist hire a professional driver when visiting.
”You see the cars these players are bringing over. Are they fit for the roads here? This is an opportunity to educate our players, especially the ones born here,” said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.
Taveras was buried late last month in a cemetery on the north coast. People perched from church rooftops to watch, and hundreds of people looked on in the streets as his casket passed.
”I’m very sorry that … it ended up like this,” Marcos Taveras said during his son’s burial.