Forever Royal: Remembering Yordano Ventura

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At first we were in shock. Then when we mourned. Together.

That’s what this city does, and that’s what the Chiefs and Royals do for this city – it brings us together. It’s what makes Kansas City so special. It’s not some transient population who only cares about their teams if they’re winning. The teams actually matter to this city. And, we care.

As Danny Duffy, who recently signed a 5-year, $65 million contract extension, once said, “We win as a city and we lose as a city.”

We lost as a city, when Yordano Ventura tragically died in a car wreck in his native Dominican Republic, Jan. 22. He was just 25 years old.

“He was so young and so talented,” GM Dayton Moore said. “He always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We loved Yordano. We loved his heart.”

As many of you know, the details are still sketchy, at best. We know it was foggy. It was the time of morning when nothing good happens. According the reports, he was out “celebrating.” You can figure out what that means, but, that’s mere speculation. Let’s not waste our time doing that. The first report of details of the accident emerged on Monday (http://sports.yahoo.com/news/new-details-emerge-about-car-accident-that-killed-yordano-ventura-201135985.html), then late Jan. 23, more came, and, it was horrifying: (http://nypost.com/2017/01/24/yordano-venturas-family-fears-he-was-robbed-as-he-lay-dying/). Then on Jan. 25, a report came out saying maybe the second report wasn’t true and the coroner ruled that he died on impact, presumably from being ejected from the vehicle in the rollover crash. We may never know what happened. But, one thing is for certain, nothing is going to bring him back. The facts surrounding his death won’t change that.

The roads in many Latin American countries are insanely atrocious. In the Dominican, they’re even worse – as they’re ranked first (WORST) in motor vehicle deaths per capita at 30 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the AP. He is the FIFTH baseball player to die in the last YEAR in a wreck in the Dominican and the third MLB player in the last three years. In a twist or irony, one was Ventura’s great friend Oscar Tavares, death inspired Ventura in an epic and uplifting performance in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series (more on that below). Andy Marte, former big-time prospect, also died in a separate wreck on the same day as Ventura. Eerily, Marte, 33, faced Ventura in his last MLB appearance on August 6, 2014. What are the odds?

After the grieving, we’re left wondering what could have been for the young flame thrower, who pitched in 94 games (93 starts) in three years + 3 starts, posting a 38-31 record with a 3.98 ERA, 1.344 WHIP, 7.7 K/9 for the Royals. He started eight postseason games before the age of 25 for the only organization he ever knew. General Manager Dayton Moore said in a teleconference that in his last conversation with Ventura, right before Christmas, Yo told Moore that he was going to win 18 games with 10 complete games. Wow. Now, we’ll never know.

Signed as a 17-year-old for just $28,000 bonus, on October 8, 2008, Ventura emerged on prospect rankings before the 2013 season as a 21-year old (No. 85 according to Baseball AmericaNo. 60 on MLB.comandBaseballProspectus.com had him at No. 62) and debuted at Age 22 that season as a September call-up after blowing through the Royals system with electric stuff and a triple-digit fastball, striking out 9.9 per 9 and posting a 20-25 record, 3.48 ERA and 1.255 WHIP. After an electric debut, Ventura shot up the prospect rankings to No. 26, 35 and 12, respectively, prior to the 2014 season, where his rookie year was the best of his career: 14-10, 3.20 ERA, 1.295 WHIP in 183 innings (31 games, 30 starts) – finishing sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Thousands turned out to pay their respects, including members of the Royals organization (manager Ned Yost, Moore, Owner Dan Glass and assistant GM/International Operations Rene Francisco), teammates (Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Miguel Almonte, Mike Moustakas), former teammates (Jarrod Dyson, Greg Holland, Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez, and Chris Getz, who was a teammate of Ventura for less than a month) – who were granted a private ceremony, and even foes (David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion) and former players (Pedro Martinez) last week in Ventura’s coastal Dominican hometown of Las Terrenas.

“Intense competitor with a lot of fire, and he was really working on that,” Yost said. “This is really tough.”

“He was a fierce competitor. We love him and we really miss him,” Hosmer added.

***

You never knew what to expect when Ventura took the mound, but it was always a must see. As a result, there are plenty of Ventura moments – good and bad.

Let’s take a look:

11. His 102.9 mph fastball (April 9, 2014): Early in his rookie season, Ventura uncorked a 102.9-mph heater, the fastest pitch ever thrown by a starter in regular-season play since PitchF/X started tracking them, just behind Justin Verlander’s 103.2-mph pitch in September 2011 as the fastest pitch registered from the arm of a starting pitcher.

10. Wild Card Game (Sept 30, 2014): Ventura, who made just one relief appearance in his MLB career (earlier in the 2014 season, on the final game before the All-Star break, earning a win), entered the Wild Card Game in the top of the sixth with two on and none out, protecting a 3-2 lead. He promptly allowed a 3-run DONG to now-Royal Brandon Moss, who hit two HR in the game.

9. His 2015 Second Half: In his final regular season start of the 2015, Ventura flirted with a no-hitter, taking it into the sixth inning, before finishing with one run on four hits while striking out 11. Coinciding with the acquisition of Cueto, Ventura went 9-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 87 innings over his final 14 starts.

8. His two Wrigley field starts: The Royals played the Cubs three times in 2015, but due to a rainout and makeup game, Ventura faced them twice, and despite the Royals losing both games – scoring just one total run – Ventura dazzled, allowing just one run on six hits in 14 innings, striking out 12 in 14 innings (0.64 ERA, 0.571 WHIP). The second start was his second to last start of the season – the one before the Twins start. He allowed just two hits and struck out six in 7 innings.

7. 2015 Opening Day (April 6, 2015): The Royals powered to a 10-1 win over the White Sox, and Ventura did his part with six strong innings, allowing one run on four hits. Lorenzo Cain was hit by a pitch from Jeff Samardzija, stirring the dugouts, one pitch after a Moustakas homerun (his first career opposite field DONG). It was one of two batters “Shark” hit in the game. Later, Ventura hit Avisail Garcia. This would spill over to later in the month, when the Royals traveled to Chicago. More on that below.

6. His Interviews/that laugh: The video speaks for itself.

5. His Flare: Much like many other Latin players, Ventura had some flare. No moment exemplifies it more than Game 6 of the 2015 World Series:

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4. His “never back down” attitude: It was April 12, 2015, just eight days after inking a 5-year, $23 million deal, and the ensuing start after hitting Garcia after Samardzija hit two Royals, Ventura had a run in with Mike Trout. In something commonly seen in a slow pitch softball game, Ventura was upset by the Angels mega-star outfielder wizzing a liner past his head, and let him know about it when Trout came around to score. Benches cleared. It was a sign of things to come with Ventura. Later that same season, there were incidents with Brett Lawrie (in retaliation to his slide into Escobar’s leg), Adam Eaton, Jose Bautista (for stealing signs; PS Gregg Zaun is still a douche – calling someone out from the booth), and then many Machado in 2016 (lets not forget that allegedly Machado challenged Ventura’s manhood).

Then there’s this small event with the Jays in the 2015 postseason, when Ventura exchanged words with first base coach Tim Leiper in Game 6 of the ALCS (Ventura allowed 1 run over 5.1 IP):

3. His Leg Kick:

Screen shot 2017-01-31 at 7.51.25 PM

His first’s:

  • MLB debut, Sept. 17, 2013: Ventura dazzles in his MLB debut, striking out three, walking one while surrendering one run on five hits in 5.1 innings, walking off the mound to a standing ovation.
  • First MLB win (April 16, 2014): He hits 100 on the gun several times and strikes out seven in seven innings in a win at Houston:

  • First postseason start/win (Oct 3, 2014): In his first postseason start, Ventura goes 7 strong in Anaheim, allowing just one run in a Royals 4-1 win to open a 2-0 Division Series lead.
  • First MLB complete game win (Sept 19, 2016): In Ventura’s second complete game of the season (lost 3-2 in July 28, 2016), he ended it with a strikeout and two Salvy splashes:

1. The “Oscar Tavares” Game (Game 6 of the World Series) – October 28, 2014: Facing elimination, Ventura, pitching in honor of his fallen friend, dominates the Giants in a 10-0 Royals win, in seven scoreless. The Royals scored 7 in the 2nd, and Yo cruised.

His teammates, and others around baseball, also remembered Yo:

Screen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.46.23 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.45.26 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.45.11 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.44.59 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.43.39 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.42.54 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.42.03 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.41.43 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.40.48 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.39.16 AMScreen shot 2017-02-03 at 10.37.11 AMScreen shot 2017-01-29 at 7.58.15 PMScreen shot 2017-01-29 at 7.57.28 PMScreen shot 2017-01-29 at 7.57.07 PM

We’ll leave this here for all the feels:

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Gone too soon.

#ForeverRoyal

#LetsThrowFire

#RIPAce

#Ace30

***

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Author: Brian Graham

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