As word spread that Yordano Ventura had died early Sunday morning in the Dominican Republic, we mourned together. Amongst ourselves at BP Kansas City, we reminisced, expressed our profound sadness, and wondered what we should do to honor this talent who threw fire unlike anyone who had ever worn the Royal blue. As the day unfolded, it became apparent we each had our distinct recollections of the young pitcher. So today, in honor of Yordano, we each contributed a little something to his memory. Something that will sustain us in the moments we realize he’s no longer with us.
Let’s throw fire.
I’ll remember that Arizona day much more fondly from here on out. It was the fall season and I was mostly there to checkout Wil Myers play in the Arizona Fall League with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Besides that, it was the first time I would get to see Raul Mondesi on the backfields as just a 16 year old kid. Those were the reasons I went, but I also got to see Yordano Ventura in pitching drills, holding court with all the others around him. I’m not sure what happened, but it appeared that he and pitching instructor Devon Lowry had made some bet to see if Yordano could locate pitches consecutively. It wasn’t much, but you could tell Yordano was the cream of the crop with all of these 18-25 year old pitchers looking on, still just 20 years old and maybe 165 lbs himself, they were all watching him. The focus was on; he was the most talented kid there. That’s saying something because the Royals still had plenty of young and talented arms at that time, many of which would go onto the major leagues. Still it was Yordano’s talent, cockiness and laugh that stood out on that backfield among the rest of the young players.
It appeared from where I was standing that he lost that bet that day as they laughed together, but it was an indicator of things to come. He was the center of attention in the Royals pitching world. I know I will truly miss seeing his talent, smile and grit that he pitched with, but most of all I’ll miss that smile and laugh that we didn’t get to see enough as fans. RIP Yordano.
It’s not fair.
Of course it’s not. As we well know, many things aren’t. Baseball isn’t. Life certainly isn’t. Two guys have what looks like a minor collision chasing a foul ball and one tears up his knee and misses a whole season and one breaks a bone in his hand and misses a month. That’s not supposed to happen.
And 25-year-olds aren’t supposed to be gone in the blink of an eye one otherwise unremarkable Sunday morning.
Yordano Ventura was like a younger sibling. So full of promise, so full of life, that you couldn’t help but love him even when he was a little bit frustrating. When he would get into shouting matches on the field or otherwise be an irritant to the rest of baseball, we’d get a little mad at him. When he had a bad start, we’d wonder when he would harness his potential. But then we’d see him smile, or strike out the side, and we’d remember that we really did love the kid. And just like you would protect your younger brother, when a national baseball writer would start mocking him on Twitter, Royals fans would stick up for Ventura. If that’s how it felt to be a fan, I can only imagine what it feels like to be a Royals player right now.
There will be plenty of time later to discuss what this means for the 2017 Royals on the field. For now, we mourn. We remember that smile and that fastball and that love for life he displayed. We might allow ourselves a smile at these memories, but we are smiling through the tears.
Many years ago, Royals fans mourned when Dan Quisenberry lost his battle with cancer. Years before that, we mourned when his manager, Dick Howser, lost his battle with cancer. Those were profoundly sad days, but we knew they were fighting a losing battle, and while they were still too young, they weren’t 25, either. And that was long ago enough that many Royals fans have never gone through something like this.
So no, there’s no manual for something like this. Not for us fans, not for Ventura’s teammates or for manager Ned Yost or for the front office. Let’s all hope that this sort of story remains rare enough that there’s no need for one.
There was no way it was true. It couldn’t be. I was sure the reports out of the Dominican Republic were wrong, that they had the wrong person. They didn’t. I spent a good portion of my Sunday morning in tears, thinking about Yordano Ventura, the person. I thought back to the few conversations I’d had with the young man and how I left each one in a better mood than I entered it. Those moments will never happen again. I’m still struggling to comprehend that.
On the baseball field, Ventura treated us to some truly magical moments. His first postseason start against the Angels that helped send the Royals back to Kansas City with a commanding ALDS lead showed what he could do. Then there was that World Series Game Six start. You could see what kind of career he could have had. The glimpses weren’t as often as we had hoped or would have liked the last two seasons, but they were still there. And now, somehow, they’re gone.
When I think about Ventura, I think about the potential. I think about that smile. I think about his passion. I think about his competitiveness. I think about his fire. All of that is gone far too soon. Rest in peace, Yordano. May your memory be for a blessing.
Yordano Ventura was a young man.
Young men do amazing things. They throw 100 mile per hour fastballs into a rectangle no bigger than your folded Sunday paper. And they do it in front of thousands.
Young men do stupid things, too. They drive too fast and and think too little. They lose their composure in the middle of baseball games.
But they also throw shutouts in World Series games. They stand up for their teammates and feel for their lost friends.
Yordano Ventura was just twenty-five years old and like any other person that age, he deserved to have many more chances to be both amazing and stupid and everything in between many times over.
I will miss Yordano Ventura being amazing. I will miss the flash. I will even miss the drama.
He came somewhat out of nowhere, brandishing a big fastball and promise, to leap up prospect lists until finally reaching Kansas City. In the process of developing as a player and during his career after reaching the big leagues, Yordano Ventura was a combination of passion, fight, and occasional outbursts that can be summed up by one fitting word: fiery.
You follow a team and month after month, year after year, and the players turn into something more than just a name on a box score or a number on a jersey. As a baseball fan, the game is a routine, a daily ritual, and its players become the actors we come to know. As we got to know him, Ventura was both frustrating and exciting, immature at times but poised in others. Scowling one moment, smiling the next. And in those moments of victory, dancing and laughing. A kid playing a game, now gone too soon.
Sports can often feel bigger than life sometimes. Its power to unite and to bind is one of its most unique characteristics. And for all this power sports have, they are nothing without the athletes, the engine that makes makes them go. This can make our favorite athletes feel superhuman at times. Like they are invincible. What happened to Yordano Ventura, like others recently–most notably Ventura’s friend, Oscar Tavares and Jose Fernandez–reminds us all too much of the humanity of these figures that we heap our hopes and dreams upon.
Where does one even begin to process such a reality? The first place people often go is memories. As fans, cherished memories are on the field. The leg kicks, the stare downs, the strikeouts, the flare, and the smile. It was an infections one Ventura had and when the personal accounts began to come in from the players that knew him best, it was apparent that his smile was indicative of his personality off the field as well. Exuberant. Infectious. Boisterous. These memories will never fade. Ventura will always be a part of the wave that crashed down on Kansas City and brought back Royals fever with a vengeance. His attitude and swagger, though troublesome at times, was borne out of his immense talent. I feel that as time marches on the stories of these things will grow. His lightning fastball, the “#LetsThrowFire” hashtag, and all that came with it. His legend will live on in KC with the only blight being that it was a tale cut far too short by tragedy. Rest in Peace, Yordano Ventura 1991-2017.
Yordano was one of those guys who you loved because he was on your team. Did he anger and infuriate his opponents? Damn straight he did. Hell, he could infuriate the fanbase with his inconsistencies. But underlying it all was a passion. A passion for the game, a passion for his team, and clearly, a passion for life. Combine that with a fearlessness. My god. That was one of the reasons I loved him.
For me, the enduring image of Yordano won’t be anything from his time on the mound or even in a Royals uniform. Instead, it will be of the day after Game Seven in 2014, when he showed up, unannounced, at a youth softball complex in the Northland. Mingling with parents and players a day after a heartbreaking loss, that said so much to me. Here he was, a young man, with a youthful heart, just looking for one more game after the best season in Kansas City in more than a generation. Nobody would have blamed Yordano if he had just packed his bags and bolted town the day after the loss. Hell, that’s just kind of expected. Instead, there he was, just hanging around, posing for pictures while wearing a Royals cap for crying out loud, and just was… Yordano. I’ll miss him.