By Rocco Scarcello
On Sunday, Jan. 22, Kansas City Royals fans woke up to heartbreaking news: Royals pitcher Yordano “Ace” Ventura had been killed overnight in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic. He was only 25 years old.
The shocking news left Royals fans in disbelief. I woke up between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., and my friends had already been discussing it in our group message. My mom, who was already crying at this point, called me shortly after, asking if I had heard what happened. I told her that I had, and we continued to talk for well over an hour. That seems like a pretty fair reaction; my mom watched darn near watched Ventura grow up, and I felt as if we were growing up together.
Ventura made his MLB debut on September 17, 2013 as a 22-year-old. At the time, I was still playing baseball here at Missouri Valley College, so MLB players that were only a few years older than me were pretty relatable. Couple that with the fact that Ventura was a Royal, and I was ready to buy-in. He, like many young players around the league, reminded me of some teammate I hadn’t seen in years but was now living his dream, and I wanted to watch every step of the way.
That’s what makes his passing so tough. I wasn’t alone in wanting to see him keep ascending. In fact, moreso for Ventura than any other player on the Royals, the sky was the limit for the flame throwing right-hander. This was evident on Opening Day 2015, as the Royals (coming off of their first World Series appearance since 1985) named Ventura the Opening Day starter. Ventura was one of the team’s leaders in both performance and passion that season, and Ventura and his teammates won the World Series that same October; many fans of many different ages remember that 2015 team as perhaps THE best team in the surprisingly-storied franchise’s history.
However, the moment that Royals fans (and MLB fans as a whole) will eternally remember Ventura for came in the 2014 World Series at the heels of another gut-wrenching tragedy for baseball fans in both Missouri and the world.
St. Louis Cardinals phenom Oscar Taveras, an outfielder who had just concluded his first season in the MLB and had returned to his home in the Dominican Republic, was killed – along with his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 18 – in a car crash on October 26, 2014. Two days later, Taveras’s close friend Ventura was scheduled to take the mound for Game 6 of the World Series with the Royals down 3-2 in the Series. Ventura wrote a silver-Sharpie tribute to his one-year-younger friend and then pitched the biggest game of his career, getting the Royals to Game 7.
It was an iconic moment of foreshadowing that fans will remember Ventura by for as long as their memories will allow them to. It was also a solemn reminder to baseball fans around the world that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a superstar or a face in the crowd – cherish your loved ones while you have them because they can be gone at any time.
Rest in Peace, Ace.