Luis Valbuena, the swing-for-the-fence infielder who did that the past four seasons against the Texas Rangers, was killed late Thursday in a car wreck in Venezuela.
Valbuena, who played 11 seasons in the majors for five teams but most recently the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels in the American League West, was 33.
His birthday was last week.
Also killed in the accident was former MLB infielder Jose Castillo, 37. Valbuena and Castillo were not wearing seat belts and were ejected from the car.
They and Venezuela Winter League teammate Carlos Rivero, who was injured but survived the wreck, were passengers in the car. The driver, who has not been identified, also survived.
“Very unfortunate the way these two great brothers lost their lives,” Rangers shortstop and fellow Venezuelan Elvis Andrus said in an Instagram post.
Police in Venezuela are investigating if the accident was a criminal act set up by a gang of thieves trying to rob the players. The car crashed when it suddenly struck a large rock in the middle of the road, and police are wondering if the rock was planted there.
A report by a newspaper in Venezuela said that the car had been looted and all three players had been robbed. Four suspects have been arrested.
An outpouring of grief has filter onto social media for Valbuena, a fun-loving player who was known for his power from the left side and the accompanying bat flips. He was a popular teammates at stops with the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, Astros and Angels.
“This is a very sad day for our sport as we mourn the deaths of Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo,” 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.”
Valbuena was a lifetime .226 hitter, but he batted .287 in 52 career games against the Rangers with five homers and 26 RBIs.