Houston Astros Players dead in Venezuela
Luis Valbuena, the charismatic, bat-flipping third baseman who played an integral part on the Astros 2015 Wild Card team, died in a car accident following a winter ball game in his native Venezuela on Thursday along with former Astro Jose Castillo.
The news was confirmed by the Cardinals of Lara, a Venezuelan winter ball team for whom both men played a game on Thursday. Valbuena was 33 and Castillo was 37.
According to reports in Venezuela, the car transporting Valbuena and Castillo hit a rock in the road. Four men were arrested in connection with the accident, Julio Leon Heredia — the governor of Yaracuy — announced Friday afternoon.
Heredia told meridiano.com that the four men were found with some of Valbuena and Castillo’s belongings. It is customary, Heredia said, for criminals or gangs to place large rocks in the middle of the street in hopes of either stopping or overturning vehicles to rob those inside.
Neither Valbuena nor Castillo was wearing a seatbelt. Both were ejected from the vehicle, according to on-site reports.
“The Astros family lost two young men yesterday, entirely too soon,” the organization said in a statement Friday morning. “During his two seasons in Houston, Luis was an extremely popular player with his teammates and the Astros staff. He was a productive player on the field and played a key role in the Astros run to the postseason in 2015. Off the field, he was a warm and friendly presence to all who interacted with him. Jose’s time with the Astros was brief, but he also had a positive impact on those around him. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends.”
Former major league infielder Carlos Rivero survived the accident. The car was driven by Rivero’s chauffeur, who also survived according to BeisbolPlay.com. The car was bound for Barquisimeto — a city in northwest Venezuela.
“This is a very sad day for our sport as we mourn the deaths of Luis Valbuena and José Castillo,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “It is clear by all the stories today that they loved baseball and made an impact on their teammates and the Clubs they represented. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to their families, friends and fans, particularly those in their native Venezuela.”
Acquired in a trade that sent Dexter Fowler to the Cubs, Valbuena appeared in 132 games and hit a career-high 25 home runs during the Astros’ 2015 season, the first under manager A.J. Hinch and the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2005.
A versatile defender who played both first and third base, Valbuena became known for his pronounced bat flips following any successful plate appearance — even walks — and infectious smile which permeated the clubhouse.
Tributes poured in from Valbuena’s former Astros teammates on Friday morning. Jose Altuve, a Venezuelan, posted pictures of both men on Instagram with a Spanish caption saying “I can’t believe what’s going on.”
Courtesy: Houston Chronicle
Written by Abelina Tavera