On January 22, 2016, exactly one year ago, the Royals, the Kansas City community and the entire sports world mourned the loss of 25-year old pitcher Yordano Ventura.
While a car accident in Ventura’s home country of the Dominican Republic cut the promising young ace’s life and career short, his legacy still lives on in 2018.
Ventura spent just three full seasons in Kansas City but his impact on the ballclub, organization and fan base was on full display throughout the 2017 regular season.
Every Royals uniform was adorned with a black “Ace 30” right sleeve patch, with many Kansas City players like Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer all touching the patch every time they rounded third following a home run.
Ace 30 banners, murals and tributes scattered throughout Kauffman Stadium and the team held an emotional celebration of life at the 2017 home opener, capped by Hosmer speaking on behalf of the organization.
“I can assure you that there was no place that felt more like home than on that mound, in front of all you guys, for Yordano,” Hosmer said.
A couple months later, on the day that would have been Ventura’s 26th birthday, former teammate, mentor and Dominican Republic native Edinson Volquez threw the first no-hitter of his career while pitching for the Miami Marlins. He dedicated the performance to Ventura after the game.
Ventura’s legacy is even more present in the small fishing town of Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, where the right-hander first learned how to pitch and now is home to his final resting place. Members of the organization have visited the town multiple times over the past year, including a group of current Royals prospects working in the community earlier in January.
The Royals plan to renovate the ballpark where Ventura pitched and re-name the space in his honor. Serving as the location for Ventura’s funeral processional that several Royals players attended last January, many signs and paintings honoring their hero can still be seen at the park and throughout the town.
Money raised through the Ace 30 Fund, set up soon after Ventura's passing, were used to fund the renovations.
“The funny thing about Yordano is that he attended this very event that we went on to the Dominican a year ago, just about 10 days before he died. He was excited that in his name we were transforming this field so, a year later, as horrible as it is what happened, we are going to be able to celebrate that with his life,” Royals' Vice President of Community-Affairs and Publicity Toby Cook said.
Other subtle reminders of Ventura’s brief but memorable time in Kansas City reemerged throughout the season. The 2017 MLB Futures Game reminded many of when a then 5’11, A-ball, 21-year-old kid started the 2012 Futures Game in a packed Kauffman Stadium.
“The baseball operations people took it hard," Cook said. "They were all men and woman who have worked with these players since they were first in the minor leagues and then all of a sudden you have a loss like this. So, I think that really helped them a lot.”
An intraleague series against the San Francisco Giants brought back memories of perhaps Ventura’s crowning achievement, starting and winning two World Series games in his first ever taste of the postseason. After allowing just two runs en-route to a Kansas City win in game two of the 2014 series, he threw seven scoreless innings in game six, pushing the series to the brink.
Ventura dedicated the performance to Oscar Taveras, a friend and fellow Dominican Republic native who passed away in a car accident, two days before the game. A tribute eerily similar to what Volquez would do for Ventura, less than three years later.
But part of Ventura’s legacy will forever be tied to what the future may have looked like. As Kansas City prepares to enter a rebuilding phase of some kind in 2018, one can only wonder how different things would be if Ventura, fully entering the prime of his career by now, was still a mainstay in the rotation.
As Hosmer, Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar all test the free agent waters, Ventura was one of the few players signed long-term in Kansas City. Paired up with left-hander Danny Duffy, the two were meant to headline the rotation through at least 2020.
Instead, the Royals have struggled to fill Ventura’s role in the rotation, let alone his spark in the clubhouse.
While his 2016 season was the least impressive of his three big league years, the upside was still very high with a 100-mph fastball and devastating off-speed stuff.
Now, instead of serving as a role model or ideal to strive to for many Latin America born players in the Royals organization, Ventura serves as a sobering reminder of how precious time is and how vulnerable everyone is, regardless of status, talent or age.
The moments, memories and feelings Ventura gave Kansas City are still there one year later and the impact he had on the organization and fan base will continue to live on for years to come. But just as the good side of his legacy lives on, so will the lasting thought of what could have been for both Ventura and Kansas City.
All these conflicting thoughts, feelings and memories will not be lost amongst Royals fans, as the fan base mourns on the one-year anniversary of losing one of the game’s bright young faces.
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