We are saddened by the passing of former Cub Luis Valbuena.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) December 7, 2018
The #Cubs organization sends its condolences to his family and friends. pic.twitter.com/2Eh4R8EUMZ
In the wee hours of the morning, I was so hungry that I actually woke up with pangs at around 3am - darn runner's metabolism. Anyway, I grabbed a protein bar and a glass of water for a quick snack and settled into the couch to satiate my unexpected hunger. Seeing that everyone else in the world was asleep, like a normal human being, I opened my phone and scrolled through Twitter in order to pass the time while I digested my food. What I saw when I casually scanned through my feed certainly upset me more than my stomach.
It was right about then that word had trickled out from Venezuela that former Cubs third baseman, Luis Valbuena and fellow former Big Leaguer, Jose Castillo, had passed away after being involved in a car crash yesterday.
According to the various reports, Luis and Jose had been passengers in a car by a fellow teammate following the completion of a Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in Caracas. All three men were members of the Cardenales de Lara and were on their way to their next contest. At some point during their journey home, the driver was forced to swerve to avoid a sliding rock and that's when the fatal accident occurred. It appears as though the driver was able to escape with injuries, but Luis and Jose were not so fortunate.
At the time of the accident, Valbuena was only 31 while Castillo was just 37 years of age. While the loss of both of these young lives is devastating, this post will be focusing on Valbuena, as he spent a significant amount of time with my favorite team. Please don't interpret this imbalance as disrespect to Jose Castillo or his loved ones.
After initially coming up with the Mariners and Indians, Luis Valbuena was claimed off of waivers by the Cubs just days before the 2012 season was scheduled to begin. The franchise was still in the early stages of their famous rebuild and the infielder was brought in to serve as infield depth and to provide some veteran leadership in a young clubhouse. Before long, Luis established himself as the defacto starter at third base, capably keeping the spot warm for Kris Bryant. The year 2014 was Luis' banner season in Chicago, as he posted a .249/.341/.435 slash line to go along with 16 home runs in 149 games. While the club around him was still going through growing pains, Valbuena was entering his peak.
Unfortunately, Luis did not get to stick around for the Cubs current run of success. That next off-season, he was traded to the Houston Astros (along with Dan Straily) for Dexter Fowler. WHo knows if the Cubs would have made it to the NLCS without Fowler setting the tone from the top of the lineup, but it's a shame that Luis strove through the dark days in the Windy City without getting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Valbuena continued slugging for couple of years in Houston; however, like in Chicago, he had a blue chip prospect breathing down his neck in Alex Bregman. Being aware of his precarious situation, Luis signed with the Angels, as a free agent, where a true starting opportunity was guaranteed. Unfortunately, like with Chicago, he left town just as things were getting good - Houston's rebuild culminated in a World Series win the very next season. What a frustrating pattern.
The wheels started to come loose in Los Angeles after the injury bug began to rear it's ugly head, eventually leading to his release in August of 2018. Luis was not content to call it a career yet though, as evidenced by his continued play in the Venezuelan winter league. Tragically, we'll not get to find out whether or not the enthusiastic corner infielder had anything left in the tank.
In the end, while Luis was consistently productive on the field during his eleven year Major League career, he will always remembered for the joy he brought to the diamond. I mean, just look how authentically jovial he looks on the above Topps Heritage singles from 2015 and 2018, respectively. Most of all though, the defining characteristic of Valbuena's baseball career will undoubtedly be his penchant for flipping his bat. We're not talking casual flips either:
Heck, he didn't even reserve his celebratory tosses for long home runs or big knocks either:
Forget old school baseball and unwritten rules - bat flips are fun and make baseball fun too! And Luis Valbuena was certainly one of the best at it!
R.I.P. Luis Valbuena. Thank you for bringing some respectability to the Lovable Losers during the nadir of their dark days, and for making baseball exciting and joyful with your unbridled enthusiasm to the Major League diamond and prodigious bat flips for eleven years. The baseball world will miss you greatly.