In a gutwrenching and heartbreaking piece of news, Major League Baseball announced overnight that Luis Valbuena and former Pirates/Giants/Astros infielder Jose Castillo were killed in a car crash in Venezuela. The pair had played in a game for the Venezuelan Winter League’s Cardenales de Lara earlier in the evening and were both passengers in the vehicle, per BeisbolPlay journalists Carlos Valmore Rodriguez and Andrew Sanchez Ruiz. Valbuena was just 33 years of age. Castillo was 37.
Suspects have been arrested in conjunction with the tragedy, Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times writes. It is suspected that the vehicle crashed when it struck a rock that was placed in the roadway intentionally, as part of a horrific robbery ploy.
Valbuena spent the past two seasons playing with the Angels and, prior to that, spent two years with the Astros, three years with the Cubs, three with the Indians and part of one season with the Mariners. Known for his affinity for bat flips and an ebullient personality, Valbuena was a popular clubhouse fixture in his decade-plus as a Major Leaguer — as evidenced by the outpouring of emotional messages from former teammates on social media.
Castillo saw fairly regular action at second base with the Pirates from 2004-07 and split the 2008 season between the Astros and Giants. While he hasn’t played in the Majors since that 2008 campaign, he continued his career with a pair of seasons in Japan, where he suited up for the Yokohama Bay Stars and the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2010-11. He’s played in the Venezuelan Winter League every year since 2006.
“Every day, every single day he had a smile on his face, happiness in his heart and a genuine interest in making others feel the same,” Angels VP of communications Tim Mead tweeted of Valbuena. “He treated everyone with respect, sincerity,and his wonderful gift of humor. Every day, every single day.”
MLBTR joins the baseball world in mourning the loss of the two and in expressing heartfelt condolences to the families, loved ones, friends and former teammates of both Valbuena and Castillo.