By now, you’ve likely heard the very sad news that Oscar Taveras, a highly-touted prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. The 22-year-old was on my short list of potential Rookie of the Year candidates for the past couple of years, and it’s tragic and heartbreaking that something like this happened to him.
For some reason, as soon as I heard the news about Taveras, I started to think of former Indians prospect Juan Lara. He was in a terrible accident in the Dominican Republic in November of 2007 that essentially ended his baseball career; fortunately, despite the severity of his injuries, he managed to survive.
Lara was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Indians in 1999, and the lefty worked primarily out of the bullpen. Lara was from a very poor family and his $10,000 signing bonus seemed almost like he’d hit the lottery. By 2006, his solid numbers at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo were rewarded with a trip to the majors before the end of the 2006 season, where he had a 1.80 ERA and a 1.00 in a limited number of innings. Even though Lara regressed a bit in 2007, he was still seen as a solid future option for the Indians in the bullpen.
When Lara first heard about the accident that killed promising Angels starter Nick Adenhart in April of 2009, he broke down in tears. That’s because his accident sounded eerily similar to what Lara experienced not even two years prior. The vehicle in which Adenhart was traveling was broadsided at an intersection by drunk driver that ran a red light. Adenhart had just completed his season debut on the mound a couple of hours earlier. Lara was traveling home from a Dominican League game when his SUV was broadsided in an intersection by a motorcycle traveling 130 mph. Even though Lara had the right of way, he never even saw the motorcycle coming; police later told him its headlight wouldn’t have been visible because it was doing a wheelie at 130 mph.
Even though Lara survived the horrific accident (the two men on the motorcycle were killed instantly) he was kept in a medically induced coma for weeks. He experienced brain trauma, a cervical spine fracture, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a torn knee ligament, and nerve damage in his pitching arm. Lara had numerous surgeries following the accident, and was eventually transferred to a hospital in Cleveland once he was stabilized. He had screws inserted into his neck to stabilize his spine, and also had a plate and screws inserted into his pitching arm, and had to wear a removable halo to stabilize his neck for eight months. The 208 lb. Lara ended up losing 45 lbs. after the accident.
Despite all of this, Lara was able to report to spring training in 2009 to attempt a comeback. He hadn’t even really been able to pick up a baseball for almost a year after the accident. He threw 17 innings in the Arizona Rookie League in 2009 and did okay – a 4.24 ERA with 19 strikeouts. That is the last trace of Lara’s career. Even though the Indians did not keep him in their organization, they did keep him on a minor league deal throughout his recovery and covered his medical bills. Lara was scheduled to play winter ball in Venezuela after the 2009 season, but there’s no trace of him after that.
It’s kind of amazing when you think about it; to survive being hit by a motorcycle traveling 130 mph, and to fight back from such severe and debilitating injuries. Even though his promising career was cut short, Lara still managed to step foot onto a baseball field and pitch in game action following his accident. As a baseball fan, sometimes you forget the big picture – that players are human beings with friends and families and that the game isn’t nearly important as their health and happiness. Unfortunately, days like yesterday remind you of that fact.