ST. LOUIS — The great thing about baseball is that it finds the quickest way to the heart. The bad thing about baseball is that it... finds the quickest way to YOUR heart.
The double-edged sword is the juiciest reason why sports both confound and amaze us. Here we are, sitting in one spot as professionals swing lumber around and play catch in various situations. We sit in awe or frustration, but no matter what, we sit there.
Some talent is different than most talent.
The game hurts the most when tragically-lost talent is remembered. Think about Jose Fernandez and how much he enjoyed the game, and how that love just oozed out of him on the mound. For St. Louis Cardinals fans, it's Oscar Taveras that strikes the strongest chord. He was the young phenom who was projected to pick up the star slack from the departed Albert Pujols and give the aging Birds at the time some youthful energy.
You can't forget two swings from Taveras. Both of them came against the San Francisco Giants, one in the summer and the other in the fall. Both were majestic blasts to right field, with the former ripping through rain and the second igniting a late playoff rally. Each time, he came back to the dugout like a kid who filled up two buckets of Halloween candy, and had already stashed a third in the clubhouse. The fans may have been euphoric, but it was Taveras who was on cloud nine.
And then he was gone. Before an offseason could pass, Taveras made a poor decision in his hometown and it cost him his life as well as the life of his girlfriend. Both were young and had a future.
Taveras wasn't just another right fielder to the Cardinals; he was destined for greatness. Rawly talented in the game while full of joy in his heart, Taveras should still be around today. Imagine the effect.
Dexter Fowler never comes to the Cardinals, and perhaps the team uses that money to shore third base or first base years ago when the offense started to head downhill. The possibilities are endless, but after a few minutes, you stop because it's just painful.
Carlson reminds me of Taveras in more ways than one. He has the same lofty yet lethal home run swing. Like Taveras, he's the Cardinals' long-awaited top-hitting prospect projected to save the team... eventually. Carlson also made his debut at 21 years of age, the sign of his elite learning curve.
Watching him the other night flip a game upside down the right way against Pittsburgh, it was easy to see the addictive allure in Carlson's potential. With one swing, he changed the entire dynamic of the game. After so many plate appearances with the bases loaded ending in a strikeout, the kid was close to absolutely obliterating a baseball. It happened last week and the shockwaves are still being felt all the way back in St. Louis. It has helped propel the team to a four-game winning streak that has stabilized their 2020 season.
Taveras may have homered in his first game, but he didn't collect his first multi-hit game until his 18th appearance. Carlson collected both of those milestones in his 12th game. The similarities don't exactly end there, but it's safe to say Carlson seems to be getting the bigger chance and finding success a little sooner than his late counterpart.
Make no mistake: The two men are linked and should be. Taveras was set to be the savior, not just another complimentary piece. Carlson carries the same weight on his shoulders, being a first round pick and top player in the organization's prospect rankings. Quickly becoming less of a prospect by the day, Carlson could be up to the task.
The Cardinals sure hope so, because they seem to be betting the future on Carlson's output. While Paul Goldschmidt is still the biggest bat and Paul DeJong is no slouch, Carlson is still seen as "the one." Goldschmidt is putting up great numbers this season, but he's more than likely is past his 6-8 WAR days. Those types of producers change baseball teams and usually bring championships to their door. That's why it's hard to dismiss the name of Juan Soto when discussing Carlson. He just helped the Washington Nationals collect a World Series a year ago.
No matter how you see it, the sky's the limit for Carlson, a fate formerly shared by the late Taveras. For the time being, his ceiling is higher than most, a route that involves flying faster than every other Redbird.
It's going to be fun to see what kind of impact he can make in St. Louis. While his swing brings a bittersweet shade to the lovely fall air, Carlson's appeal and potential are legit reasons to be excited about his future.