My son picked out his outfit for Sunday. He must’ve known something that I didn’t.
Cale went with “ball ball,” his Royals shirt, Royals hoodie and Royals hat. He’s too little to know why dad became so upset just looking at him.
Someday, I hope to be that old man telling him stories about a shooting star, a brief fireball named Yordano Ventura. And that thought hurts so bad.
We will never enjoy watching him together.
Fellowship is what baseball is to me, and the Royals are all I know. I knew baseball could be family even in the worst seasons of watching the Kansas City Royals. It unites people in joy and in sorrow.
I never thought the sorrow could be this.
Yordano Ventura, a 25-year-old mercurial baseball talent, died over the weekend in a violent car crash in his native Dominican Republic. Royals players, management and fans came together again to celebrate a man who lived his dream but left us before we truly discovered the depth of his abilities.
In a brief baseball career, Ventura grew from a scrawny teenager with potential to the wild-armed right-hander who wowed us with a 100-mile-plus fastball but also surprised us with dancing curveballs and fluttering changeups.
I took a cue from my three-year-old son while getting dressed for work on Monday. I went with his “ball ball” look. A Royals hat with a 2014 World Series logo patch, the same as the one Ventura wore for Game 6 that season when he pitched the game of his life. A 2015 Royals World Series champions T-shirt and hoodie in honor of the championship Ventura helped bring here, my fondest memory as a sports fan.
Let’s be honest. Most who know me realize I might’ve picked this out anyway since I’m consistently and playfully harassed any time I don’t have Royals apparel on.
But this seemed fitting on a day to remember.
I don’t know why I’m so upset, so devastated for a group of people I barely know, but the Royals have become an extended family to so many in Kansas City. That atmosphere showed Sunday when pitcher Danny Duffy and Christian Colon spontaneously showed up to mourn with fans at Kauffman Stadium, offering hugs and support to those already gathered to leave flowers and memorabilia to honor Ventura’s life.
Duffy, Colon and pitcher Ian Kennedy showed up again that night to a candlelight vigil and told the assembled crowd, we will get through this together. The hard part started with accepting reality and letting go of a young man who became a part of our lives every fifth day during the spring, summer and fall of the past four years.
Yordano Ventura made seven starts in the postseason before the age of 25, seemingly destined to create so many fantastic playoff memories. However, all baseball fans know there are no guarantees, especially any of you who suffered through the worst years of Royals baseball.
In 10 postseason games that Ventura pitched, the Royals went 8-2 — a mark that included his infamous appearance in the 2014 American League Wild Card game. He came in out of the bullpen and gave up a go-ahead home run in a game the Royals rallied back twice to score one of the more improbable playoff victories in the history of Major League Baseball.
The Royals have become known for their family atmosphere — winning despite a roster that computer projections hate and succeeding due to the sum of the parts.
Ventura resided in that core group during a run of success for the Royals unrivaled since the 1970s and early 1980s. Fearless but volatile, he gave his all to win and never avoided a chance to stand up for teammates, creating controversies when he started brawls with the Orioles’ Manny Machado or near-brawls with the Angels’ Mike Trout or the White Sox’s Adam Eaton.
Temperamental to his benefit and to a fault, Ventura always seemed on the cusp of greatness — especially when he channeled his emotions into his pitching. He threw seven shutout innings in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series against the San Francisco Giants while pitching in memory of his good friend Oscar Taveras, a St. Louis Cardinals outfielder killed days earlier at the age of 22 in a car crash in the Dominican Republic.
The images of Ventura from that night in his seemingly always oversized hat with the initials “OT” written in white will forever haunt me.
I’ll try to stay away from those in the coming days, but I’ll never forget either. I want to remember Ventura as the jovial kid who grew up before our eyes and became an intricate part in the rebirth of sports for Kansas City during recent years.
Ventura loved life and succeeded through sheer determination despite his perceived limitations as a 6-foot, 180-pound pitcher. When the Royals reached the World Series again in 2015, Ventura was seen in the clubhouse casually opening a Budweiser beer bottle with his teeth and later randomly interjecting in an interview with Royals broadcaster Joel Goldberg, “Oh baby! We going to the World Serious again,” before pitching his head back in cackling, joyous laughter.
A wild card from the start, Ventura was our wild card in Kansas City. We could be disappointed in him when his emotions boiled over, but no one else could criticize him. We will love him forever in Kansas City, always holding a special place in the memories of baseball fans who experienced the Royals in the World Series with him playing a major part.
Call him Yo, Ace or whatever, we will always be grateful for what Yordano Ventura gave us playing the game he loved. We will always remain wistful about what might have been.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.