“The talent is all there, but between the ears there’s a circuit board off balance.” Thus spoke Adam Jones, Orioles outfielder, early last June, after Yordano Ventura—the Royals’ talented but combustible pitcher—decided to go to war against Manny Machado and finally provoked yet another brawl.
The righthander had surrendered a first-inning homer to Machado, then busted him inside and tight twice in the second before jawing at him as he ran out a fly out, and finally threw one so far inside in the fifth that it caught Machado in the ribs. The only shock would have been if Machado chose not to settle it with a charge to the mound and two blows to Ventura’s head as both teams poured out of the dugouts and pens.
Even Ventura’s own manager seemed at last to tire of his act. “Ventura, in Manny’s (earlier) at-bat, was pitching him in,” said Ned Yost after that 4-1 loss to the Orioles. “Obviously, he didn’t like it. I don’t know who’s at fault there.” But the manager also admitted that a good number of his other players were tiring of the act.
Now, alas, the Royals have other terms with which to come. Ventura was killed in a car crash Sunday morning at age 25 in his native Dominican Republic. The talent with Aroldis Chapman-like speed and fortitude balanced uneasily with the temperamentalist who hadn’t abandoned the sandlots entirely; the stout young World Series pitcher living testily in the same skin as the would-be enforcer.
And, as often proves true with such young men, there probably was more to him than the surface and the notorieties allowed.
Ventura himself had to shoulder a burden of grief as he took a World Series mound in 2014, when Cardinals rookie Oscar Taveras—who’d tied Game Two of that year’s National League Championship Series with a pinch-hit home run and looked to have a promising future ahead—was killed in a car crash two days earlier.
Handed the ball for Game Six of the Series, Ventura merely pitched the game of his life, wearing a white marker scrawl on his cap acknowledging Taveras, and getting better as the game got older until he ran out of gas getting out of the seventh, while his mates battered the eventual champion Giants 10-0.
He looked not like a young man in search of a scrum but a marksman on the mound figuring early and often enough which bullets would work to keep the Giants pinned and firing them with no malice aforethought, looking like the artist his raw talent suggested he could be. The blowout almost obscure Ventura’s magnificent performance while mourning his friend, yet he showed one and all real heart and substance.
A year later, Ventura was on the wrong side of Mets righthander Noah Syndergaard’s statement-making Game Three Series start. In which Syndergaard dropped Alcides Escobar at the plate on the game’s first pitch, after Escobar’s too-well-flaunted plate comfort helped the Royals wreak havoc in the first two games, rather than wait until games were well out of hand as Ventura and his Royals had too often done during the 2015 regular season.
Again, Ventura kept his head intact and did his best to concentrate on the work at hand. And, again, he showed heart and substance even in the only defeat the Royals would incur in that Series.
Now the Royals go from quietly but actively pondering whether to move him, as they did during the first third of last season, to mourning him after preparing to include him in maybe one more run of the current group at another postseason shot. Not one member of the organisation questioned his passion for the game or his apparent zest for life. But it couldn’t have been simple for them to remark on his refusal to “back down.”
He simply didn’t know when it was the most appropriate moment not to back down. The sad proof of which included his too-unforgettable tweet the day after a nasty August 2015 brawl with the Blue Jays. The one about which Jays slugger Jose Bautista professed to lose a lot of respect for Yost over Yost’s praising “restraint” in an ump crew that let a game get to the brawl point by failing to hand warnings down early, often, and firm.
Ventura hit back at Bautista: We’ll meet again later and if you do that with me, you’ll see what I’m about. I don’t care about anybody. I used to respect you, but you’re a nobody . . . You got lucky this time, but MLB doesn’t get canceled after this season. Keep running your mouth . . . You’re gonna get it from me for being fresh and you really are a nobody. He’d called a six-time All-Star who’d taken the Royals deep the day before a “nobody.”
Apparently, much was forgiven in the year plus since, because among Ventura’s mourners following the news of his death was Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, tweeting, “RIP Yordano Ventura. Awful news. Ruined the day. Way too young. Prayers to the families and everyone involved!”
Christian Colon—whose line single busted an extra-innings Game Five tie and opened the gates for the Royals to pour through to finish their 2015 World Series triumph—praises the Ventura his mound combativeness obscured:
You were like a little brother to me. You were a tough one to deal with but with your love and your smile you could always make everything OK. We would have long conversations about life, about how much we wanted to be great in all aspects of life. I knew the struggle you had to overcome to get to where you were and I could always see it in your eyes that you wanted more. I knew your secrets and I knew your strengths. I knew any time you needed a teammate to help you with something, that teammate would be me. I’m so happy to be able to say I knew you. I’m gonna miss you more than you know. I know at times you were tough but I knew u were just misunderstood. Love you bro and you will forever have a special place in my heart.
A young man who could inspire a teammate to such eloquence as that is a young man who was bound to continue maturing. It is indeed to mourn that Ventura was robbed of the chance. May he rest in peace with the God of his fathers, and may the God of his fathers becalm and comfort his roiled soul and his family’s wrench.
ANDY MARTE, RIP—Ventura’s death is horrific enough without compounding it by the news that Andy Marte, 33, former major league third baseman, was also killed Sunday, in a road accident entirely separate from the one that claimed Ventura.
Once a glittering prospect ranked number nine on the 2005 top fifty prospects list, Marte never lived up to his early promise as he played in six organisations before trying two seasons in Korea.
Remembered for a warm personality, Marte’s final major league plate appearance now has the touch of cruel irony: it was against Ventura, and he struck out.
But Marte also got one taste of how Ventura made his living, in late July 2010: he pitched an inning for the Indians against the Yankees and, including a strikeout of Nick Swisher, he was perfect.