For­mer Astros killed in car crash

Val­buena and Castillo dead in Venezuela wreck

San Antonio Express-News - - SPORTS - By Chan­dler Rome chan­[email protected] Twit­ter: @chan­dler_rome

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 fel­low 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.

“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.”

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 meri­dano.com that the four men were found with some of Val­buena’s and Castillo’s be­long­ings. Here­dia said­crim­i­nals or gangs of­ten place large rocks in the mid­dle of the street in hopes of over­turn­ing ve­hi­cles and rob­bing those in­side.

Nei­ther Val­buena nor Castillo was wear­ing a seat­belt. Both were ejected from the ve­hi­cle, ac­cord­ing to on­site re­ports.

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 that 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.”

On Twit­ter, pitcher Collin McHugh called him “such a huge piece of our suc­cess story. Part of a lengthy In­sta­gram post in Span­ish from Mar­win Gon­za­lez read, “You left this world with­out an en­emy be­cause your prin­ci­ples, your kind­ness and your charisma would not let you have it.”

In a state­ment, Astros gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now called Val­buena one of “the hap­pi­est play­ers in baseball.”

“I will miss Luis’ ban­ter, smile, gen­uine love for his team­mates, and, of course, the bat flips,” Hinch said in a state­ment. “He was a beloved per­son whether he was on our team or across the field. My thoughts and prayers are with his fam­ily and the lucky ones who could call him a team­mate or friend.”

Robert Gau­thier / TNS

For­mer Astro and Los An­ge­les An­gel Luis Val­buena was killed along with for­mer Astro Jose Castillo in a car crash in Venezuela on Thurs­day. Two oth­ers in the car sur­vived the ac­ci­dent.

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