Somehow, it has already been one year since Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. It is hard to know what to say here, even as a person whose job it is to say things. I will turn instead to another writer for her wisdom. Stacey May Fowles wrote this in her book “Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me,” about the death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez:
“There is no real roadmap for dealing with the kind of inexplicable grief that comes with the death of someone we didn’t know. Though the loss is not personal by definition, it leaves a hole in a community and a culture. While we can understand that our suffering will never be as great as that of those who were close to Fernandez, we still feel its vicious sting. And though it is true that nothing can be said or written that will assuage that kind of acute, relentless sadness, it is certainly okay to talk about it it. It is okay to acknowledge the terrible feelings, to mourn a missing and vital piece of something we hold so close, and to feel immense empathy for the men who suffer this sudden wound and then unbelievably go back to the diamond to play on.”
While this was written about a different tragic death of a different giant personality in Major League Baseball, it still provides guidance for Royals fans as we look back on the 365 days since the sudden loss of our own Ace, Yordano Ventura.
Yesterday in the Kansas City Star, Maria Torres followed some important threads from Ventura’s personal life, showing how his extended family is badly fractured now. Few questions about his estate have been answered, and with millions on the line and his marriage being fought out in court, that’s something that could drag on a while.
But not everything is in this kind of dark shadow. Because of Yordano, kids all over the Dominican Republic have received equipment, upgraded fields, and a stoked passion for the game that took one of their own from the dirt fields to World Series victory. I suspect that Royals minor leaguers from all over will continue to make trips there in the winter to keep building the legacy Ventura started.
Grief is stupid, and ugly, and isolating, and every extreme opposite of the things that baseball usually is for us. When we are grieving, the things we can normally count on in day-to-day life seem suddenly impossible and confusing. Going back in to the office: how? Getting out of bed: what? Talking to strangers: seriously?
Very soon after the news of his death broke, some Royals players defied grief’s orders to stay at home and let nobody in. Danny Duffy, Christain Colon, and Ian Kennedy somehow found the strength to turn outward in their most vulnerable moment. They laid themselves bare alongside regular Kansas Citians gathered outside of Kauffman Stadium, allowing the world to see them cry, to see them at a loss for words, to see them shattered. If anyone had doubts about that baseball players are like family to each other, that scene should have erased them all.
Now a whole season has passed. We can never know how many more wins the team could have had with Ventura throwing fire every fifth day. Dayton Moore did the best he could to fill out a rotation, but it always felt like sitting down to family dinner around a table with one painfully empty chair.
Not many of us knew Yordano Ventura personally. But we were still deeply hurt one year ago, and perhaps still hurting today. We might still be looking over at that empty chair, wishing so hard that we will see the goofy kid lighting up the room with that big, easy smile. We will not, and that hurts.
Rest in peace, Ace.