Remembering Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura
Yordano Ventura would have turned 31 years old on Friday.
From the 2017-2018 KCTV5 archives, Jared Koller looks back on the life of Kansas City Ace Yordano Ventura
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - In a sports world where legacies and narratives are constantly evolving, the book on how a player is remembered is never fully shut.
But on Sunday, January 17, 2017, the life and career of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura were tragically cut short after a fatal car crash in the Dominican Republic.
As fans, players and the entire Royals organization mourn the loss of one of the team’s stars, it’s hard to look back on Ventura’s four-year career in Kansas City as a totality.
Still, there are countless moments stretched out over Ventura’s time in Kansas City that forever etched his name in the history books as an integral part of the club’s young, vibrant core that brought the city its first World Series in 30 years.
Ventura made his first pitching appearance in Kauffman Stadium not in a Kansas City Royals uniform, but as a member of the World Team in the 2012 All-Star Futures game.
The 5′11 righty was only in A-ball at the time but earned the start in front of a packed Sunday crowd. A year later, Ventura would make his official major league debut in the same stadium.
After just three starts in 2013, Ventura took the league by storm with what would go down as his best career year in 2014.
Starting the season at just 22 years old, Ventura logged 183 innings over 30 starts, and struck out 159 batters to just 69 walks, while maintaining a low 3.20 ERA. His 14 wins tied for most on the team and helped propel the Royals to a playoff appearance for the first time in 29 years. The Royals won 12 of his final 14 starts.
Ventura capped off a solid 2014 regular season, with a historic postseason performance akin to Brett Saberhagen in 1985.
Referred to as “The Kid” on the World Series broadcast, Ventura pitched seven innings of one-run baseball in Game Two of the ALDS, his first postseason start.
His first World Series start was not much different, allowing just two runs en route to the team’s first win of the series.
However, Ventura’s career-defining moment occurred on October 28 in Game Six of the 2014 World Series.
Kansas City was down three games to two, coming off a shutout in San Francisco at the hands of Madison Bumgarner and manager Ned Yost turned to Ventura in hopes of keeping the series alive.
Adding to the difficulty of the situation, Ventura’s friend and fellow Dominican Republic native Oscar Taveras passed away in a car crash two days before the game. With a heavy heart, Ventura wrote “RIP O.T #18″ into his Royal blue hat and went on to pitch the game of his life.
The Giants scored 27 runs in the series before game six, but Ventura held San Francisco scoreless over seven shutout innings, with just three hits allowed. He’s still one of just two rookie starters to win a World Series elimination game since 1983.
Hunter Pence of the Giants grounded Ventura’s final pitch back to the mound, and in true Ventura style, the rightly emphatically gloved the ball in one fluid motion, then unleashed a leg kick, before completing it all with a quick flick of the wrist to first base.
Ventura always played with a sense of confidence, flair, emotion, passion for the game, and an innate desire to be great. Even when dealing with the struggles of 2016, Ventura always pitched with the same fire and intensity as his daunting 100-mph fastball.
In total, Kansas City was 8-2 in playoff games Ventura pitched. He finished his rookie season with a total of 208 innings and a 3.20 ERA. Over just 3 seasons in KC, the Royals won 61 games that Ventura pitched.
As a recipient of one of general manager Dayton Moore’s first long-term contracts, Ventura made a five-year commitment to Kansas City at the age of 23. He was set to enter the prime of his career at age 26 and would have been under club control through 2021.
Not only is this a major blow to the team as a fixture of their starting rotation for years to come, but also the lively spirits inside the Royals clubhouse.
Once a proclaimed member of “El trio Dominicao” by former pitcher Johnny Cueto, the loss of Ventura hits hard to the likes of Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Raul (Adalberto) Mondesi Jr and Christian Colon.
Ventura traveled through the minors with young core players like Hosmer and Perez, then helped establish a diverse clubhouse that players from across the globe can feel comfortable being a part of.
In 2017, every Royals uniform was adorned with an “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.
“On behalf of Dayton (Moore), Ned (Yost), Salvy (Perez) and the whole organization, we can’t thank you guys enough for the love and support that you guys have all had for us and Yordano’s family. Together, as an organization, we’ve all had the opportunity to celebrate the life of Yordano and mourn the life of Yordano as well. But what we haven’t had the opportunity to do, was celebrate his life with the other side of our family and that’s you guys our fans. So we thank you, and 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.
“He’s someone that I looked up to,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “Maybe he didn’t know that, but I did.”
“He was more than just a teammate to all of us, he was, you know, family,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said.
“We lost a teammate, we lost a friend, we lost a brother,” catcher Salvador Perez said.
“I don’t think you can ever disassociate yourself from that or make yourself numb to that because he was such a big part of us, and he was still very much a part of who we are,” manager Ned Yost said. “It’s still heartbreaking to a lot of guys in there. It just takes time, and it’s the only thing that is going to heal things is time.”
A couple of 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 in Miami. 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 this month.
The Royals plan to renovate the ballpark where Ventura pitched and rename 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.
Now, instead of serving as a role model or ideal to strive for many Latin America-born players in the Royals organization, Ventura serves as a sobering reminder of how precious time is and how venerable everyone is, regardless of status, talent or age.
The moments, memories and feelings Ventura gave Kansas City are still there years later, and the impact he had on the organization and fan base will continue to live on for years to come.
The loss of Ventura hits hard across Kansas City as he will always be a part of the team that really brought the life of baseball back to the city, after so many years of darkness.
This is not something that any player, fan or member of the organization can ever prepare for, as now a city is left wondering what could have been.
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