Many in the baseball world are still trying to process the stunning news of Yordano Ventura’s death from a car collision over the weekend. Some were able to express their reflections on Ventura.
Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star reflected upon Ventura with a fitting tribute.
His next pitch might pop the radar gun at 100 mph. Or it could be that nasty, biting curveball, the pitch that even more than the fastball scouts thought would someday make him a star.
He might throw a no-hitter. He might give up line drives to the next five batters. He might make the bat in the cleanup hitter’s hands useless, the man cursing to himself as he walks back to the dugout after a strikeout. Or, he might hit the No. 7 hitter, then puff his chest out like a rooster, the beginning of another confrontation.
Ventura struggled, like a lot of us, to find his way. His world moved faster. His successes and failures were always broadcast louder. Through it all, he was relentless and unapologetic and desperate to be great — both for himself, and for everyone back home for whom it meant almost as much.
His teammates and coaches might occasionally grow frustrated at some of the rougher moments, but they saw a good soul, a big heart, and an earnest learner. It’s easy to support someone like that. Easy to see the best.
Star editor Jeff Rosen recalls the love affair Kansas City had for Yordano.
Maybe he’d win 20 games for the Royals. Perhaps more. He’d challenge for the American League Cy Young Award, a conqueror of his own inner demons and the best story in baseball.
Until then, well, every love affair has its ups and downs. We’d contine to ride the roller-coaster alongside him, living vicariously through his successes and failures, because he was one of us. We wouldn’t give up on our best friend, our son or daughter, and we surely wouldn’t give up on him.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote about Yordano’s fearlessness.
Fearlessness gave a 5-foot-10, 140-pound child who quit school at 14 to help his mother pay the bills the chutzpah to show up at a tryout with the Kansas City Royals. And once they bet the pittance of $28,000 on his right arm, fearlessness drove him through his insecurities and the doubts of those who disregarded him because he was a runt. And by the time he made the major leagues, where he introduced himself by throwing a fastball harder than any starting pitcher ever had been recorded doing so, fearlessness became Yordano Ventura’s raison d’etre, for worse on occasion, mostly for better.
Because from the fights he instigated to the moments shared with friends in which his utter lack of damns given made the night, Ventura was the person so many want to be, unencumbered by others’ expectations, driven purely by his own. Some thought it selfish. Those who knew him just saw it as Yo being Yo. And it scared them because they feared he was prone to situations like Sunday, when he was driving a white Jeep down a Dominican highway late at night, an activity best suited for the fearless.
Joe Posnanski recounts how a skinny Dominican kid grew up to have a blazing fastball.
"He needed to pitch with that edge," Picollo says. "And yet he needed to harness his emotions. That was the constant struggle for Yordano. He always wanted to do more. He always wanted to defend his teammates. He always wanted to win -- he wasn't scared of anybody. That was the trait that got him to the big leagues. He had to be who he was."
"It's a common story, isn't it?" Ibanez says. "With so many great athletes, the greatest strength is also the greatest weakness."
Ventura was good again after his return from the Minors, with the Royals winning 12 of his 16 starts. And then they willed their way to the World Series title.
"It is," Ventura said after that final victory, "better than a dream."
Yes, in baseball, you get to watch kids grow up, develop amazing skills, make big mistakes, do extraordinary things. You get to know them. Family is an overused word in sports, but there is a sense of family there, a connection that goes beyond sports. It is a connection that makes days like today, when Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte die young, hurt that much more.
"I see that big smile," Ibanez says. "I hear that laugh."
Chris Kamler at Rambling Morons remembers the life of Ventura.
In the end, we will remember that cacophony of complication that was Yordano Ventura. We will remember his passion, his electricity, and the fire.
But my takeaway is to never stop reminding my son to eat his vegetables regardless of how many shrugs and eye-rolls I get. Because after that stuff, comes lessons on treating others with respect, getting up for class, listening and learning, and also never drinking and driving. There are only a few really, really important things that my son needs to listen to an learn. I will never, ever stop reminding him.
Descansa en paz, Yordano
Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs tries to put the tragic death of baseball players in perspective.
It’s natural to feel as if you’re appropriating your heartbreak. To whatever extent we ever know our athletes, we never know them as family or loved ones. We don’t know their inside jokes, we don’t know how they like their eggs. The Venturas and the Martes are devastated, and theirs is a devastation that is unsurpassable. Yet your own sadness is valid, validated by its very existence, and there should be no room for guilt in grief. How you receive this news is yours.
Do not feel bad, either, if your first thoughts are of baseball. Even if they’re of disappointing baseball. Baseball is how we learned of these people at all, and there are certain things the two people are known for. That’s where your minds are going to go; it’s where your minds were always going to go. Let it happen, because it’s part of the process. I don’t know how we ever accept the death of a baseball player, but it begins by working through their baseball stories.
Grant Brisbee is reminded of the mortality of ballplayers.
The unspoken bargain of baseball is that it all has to end. If you close your eyes, you can picture a 75-year-old Mike Trout wobbling onto the field, doffing his cap, and acknowledging the cheers of thousands, most of whom never got to see him play. We all know this, but the salve is that there should be a career and lifetime packed in between then and now. There are hundreds of treacly ways to acknowledge how baseball can act as a proxy for real life, but that’s one of the most obvious and enduring. It always ends, but you’re hoping it’s as beautiful as possible for as long as possible.
What’s less obvious is that baseball is also a weird, unrepresentative cross-section of life, a subset of young millionaires, young success stories, young disappointments, and young never-weres. It’s where a person can be washed up at 25, old at 35, and fortunate to peak at 27, but only if they’re lucky. Mostly, though, it’s a cross-section of youth, which means we’re going to have irregular but unavoidable reminders that it isn’t always as beautiful as possible for as long as possible. Not when it comes to the sport. Not when it comes to life. It seems unfair when the reminder happens in a sporting context. Then something like this comes along and makes everything else seem silly.
Michael Baumann at The Ringer sees Ventura’s death as senseless.
It’s tempting at this point, when the shock of Ventura’s death is so new and our emotions are so raw, to attempt to draw larger conclusions, to find consolation elsewhere. While the cause of each crash is under investigation, some will likely focus on the circumstances that make the Dominican Republic’s roads so dangerous, as Jorge Arangure did at Vice when Oscar Taveras died in 2014. Others will discuss how sorely Ventura’s charisma and talent will be missed, as countless columnists did when José Fernández was killed in a boating accident last fall.
Those stories have been told over and over. They’ve become as routine as game recaps now — the look back at the player’s career, links to shocked teammates’ reactions, the sly reference to A.E. Housman, and the search for Larger Meaning. But it seems that nothing ever changes: confident young men still press their luck instead of calling a cab or heading home early; police still enforce DUI laws haphazardly; and the world wakes to another heartbreaking early morning news story. There is no Larger Truth to be gleaned, no redemption or enlightenment to be gained from suffering.
For me, I’m not sure the death of Yordano Ventura has sunk in. Fans into baseball analytics are sometimes accused of seeing baseball players merely as numbers. While its true I see Ventura as a 2-3 WAR pitcher, I also saw a skinny right-handed Dominican with an electric fastball that was capable of making the best hitters on the planet look foolish. I saw a cocksure young man on the mound that was not going to let anyone show him up, a trait I found both annoying and endearing. I saw an exuberant kid, jubilant in the clubhouse as he opened a beer bottle with his teeth, and shouted (in perfect English) “ooh baby, we’re going to the World Series again, ooh baby!”
It is difficult to put his death in perspective. From my selfish point of view, I am disappointed I will never get to see what he could have become as a pitcher. But from a human point of view, it is tragic when any 25-year old has their life cut down short from a senseless, likely preventable accident. His grieving mother doesn’t care about what his future WAR would have projected as. His sorrowful teammates don’t care about the hole this leaves in the Royals rotation. Dayton Moore doesn’t care about how this affects the payroll. A man has died. A young man.
Yordano Ventura only got to live to see his 25th birthday. Yet he accomplished more than some men spend their whole lives trying to accomplish. I miss Yordano Ventura. I miss temporarily believing the illusion that baseball players were lines on a Baseball-Reference sheet, impervious to the harsh realities of life and death. I miss looking at pictures and videos of the 2014 and 2015 Royals with complete joy, instead of sorrow knowing that one of those players is no longer with us. I miss Throwing Fire.