Just over a year ago, there was a parade through the streets of Kansas City. Riding in truck beds, the members of the Kansas City Royals waved and cheered along with a crowd as the vehicles weaved throughout the downtown blocks. There were speeches from the players to the fans, a group who had waited decades for this moment. One of the players, Yordano Ventura, was reluctant to speak in English. It was not his first language, so he sheepishly spoke to the crowd.
The crowd cheered. They loved this team, a team known for its energy and attitude. No one showcased this more than Ventura, the Royals player with the highest ceiling. An incredible fastball was paired with an attitude and swagger that made fans love him, all while making opposing players despise him.
Today, there was a similar parade. This time, the location was in Ventura’s hometown in his native Dominican Republic. A truck drove through the streets, Ventura in the back. Only, this time the cheering was replaced with stunned silence. The crowd surrounding the truck followed alongside the casket that rested in the truck bed. In the United States, messages poured across the Facebook Live feed, continuing even after the spotty Dominican internet had left just a single frozen image on the screen.
“RIP Ace” they said. Some spoke of him in heaven chatting with Cy Young or pitching another game. Many described their shock that the 25-year-old could be gone, that his Jeep could have crashed off the road that night, that the reported events afterwards could have happened.
As a lifelong Royals fan, this hurts. Not just in a baseball perspective, but in a life perspective. I have watched since he made his Major League debut in 2013. I saw him pitch in honor of his friend Oscar Taveras in the 2014 World Series, a friend who also died far too early because of a car accident, throwing seven shutout innings. I watched him help bring home the first championship in decades for Kansas City, watched him fire up a team, watched him be called a hothead and Phenom and the future and, by one article, a possible future hall of famer if his potential was met.
With all of this, it can be easy to get lost in the “sports” of it all. He was not just the most promising pitcher on the team or the most explosive personality in a dynamic and unusually close-knit group of players. He was, mostly, a 25-year-old. A 25-year-old with his whole life in front of him.
In fact, if you asked the people who knew him, his baseball family, it wasn’t his baseball prowess that they brought up. It was his beaming smile, his energy, his vitality. They mention the little things that Yordano did, like referring to manager Ned Yost as “Nedyo” when he would pass him. It was this that endeared him to teammates and to fans.
This is why people are mourning at candlelight vigils in Kansas City and why teammate Danny Duffy was there alongside them, hugging these fans and letting them know things would be okay. It’s why Christian Colon stood alongside the crowd of fans, a crowd that has cheered him on as spectators hundreds of times, and just cried. It’s why teammates flew to the Dominican Republic and drove past the stadium where Ventura had learned to play baseball and through the town that had made Ventura what he was.
There are unsubstantiated reports that, after the car crash that had thrown Ventura out of his vehicle, he was found alive. Those who found him did not try to save Ventura, but rather assaulted him and stole his money, clothes, and the World Series ring he had worked so hard to get. This makes it even harder for those who are mourning him, knowing that, whether he ever played baseball again or not, he could still be here with his wife and family. In the coming days, there will be investigations into what caused the crash and whether this is true, but none of it matters.
Either way, the sports world and the world in general has lost a beloved member.
Maybe that’s why most of the messages that popped up on Facebook Live just said “RIP Ace.” How do you express your thoughts when the sports world and the real world collide tragically? When you remember that, aside from an athlete, those you are watching are just as mortal as the rest of us?
RIP Ace. It’s all you can really say.