Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. He was 25 years old.
“He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano.”
A highway patrol spokesman told the Associated Press Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 northwest of Santo Domingo.
Ventura, also known as "Ace," made his debut with the Royals on September 7, 2013 against the Cleveland Indians. He had 39 wins with the Royals.
Yordano "Ace" Ventura stats with the Kansas City Royals
Ventura spent his entire professional career in the Royals’ organization after signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2008 and debuting for the club on September 17, 2013. He pitched in two World Series (2014, 2015) with Kansas City, helping the franchise win their second World Series championship in 2015. He held a 38-31 career record in 94 games and 93 starts at the Major League level, while he also made nine postseason starts before the age of 25.
Family, fans mourn in the Dominican Republic
Dozens of children wearing blue T-shirts with the name "Ventura" emblazoned on the back gathered around a coastal home on Monday to pay their respects to their idol: Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura.
Friends and relatives attend a wake for the late Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. (Associated Press)
He was known for practicing with his former youth baseball team every time he visited the Caribbean country, said Silvano Santos, who coached Ventura from age 7 to 14.
"He was an inspiration to every kid," Santos told The Associated Press, recalling how Ventura took time to meet with members of the Kelly youth team that he once played for and gave them gifts, including uniform T-shirts.
The children talked quietly among themselves as they sat in the patio of the house Ventura bought after signing with the Royals. Inside, friends, family and admirers gathered around his coffin and tried to consoler Ventura's mother.
"This is very painful for me because he was such a great baseball player," said his nephew, Yonfer Ventura, an 11-year-old member of the youth team.
Ventura was born in the town of Samana on June 3, 1991, and quit school at 14. He was working on a construction crew to support his family when he heard about a baseball tryout, which led to a spot in the local Royals' academy. The right-handed wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.
The mayor of the Dominican town of Las Terrenas declared a two-day mourning period for the 25-year-old player, who died on a highway about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of the capital of Santo Domingo.
Authorities have not determined what caused the accident but suspect speeding. Ventura was driving by himself in a vehicle he had imported from Florida last October after making some modifications to it.
Angela Martinez, mother to Ventura's only daughter, said the player wasn't known for speeding because he was affected by the 2014 death of his friend, former St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Oscar Taveras, who crashed at 22 in his hometown of Puerto Plata.
"I always told him to be careful," said Martinez, who recalled Ventura as intense and very cheerful.
Marisol Hernandez, mother of the late Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, is embraced by a young woman during her son's wake in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. (Associated Press)
However, Santos, his former coach, said Ventura owned several motorcycles and liked to race.
"That was his weakness: racing," he said. "It was his hobby."
The Dominican Republic has the highest traffic-related death rate in the Western Hemisphere with nearly 30 deaths per 100,000 people. Four current or former major league players have died in traffic accidents here in recent years, including Andy Marte, a 33-year-old infielder who also was killed Sunday. He had played in the Major Leagues from 2005-2010 with Atlanta and Cleveland and returned in 2014 with Arizona.
Authorities said Marte died when the Mercedes Benz he was driving hit a house along a road between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.
Kansas City Royals fans pay tribute to Yordano Ventura
As Royals fans learned of the devastating news, dozens of fans made their way to Kauffman Stadium to pay their tributes to Ventura.
“This organization really has a passion about its fanbase and the fanbase has a passion about the organization. So it’s really a family kind of thing so it’s just like we lost a brother today,” said Royals fan Dave Darby.
— Ariel Rothfield KSHB (@arothfield) January 22, 2017
Some fans brought flowers, others brought baseballs and hats thanking Ventura for everything he had done.
“I’ve been cheering him on through thick and thin, and I just wanted to come out and make sure we paid our respects,” said Sabrina Gray.
41 Action News spoke with Royals Hall of Fame Director Curt Nelson about Ventura:
Around Kauffman stadium flags flew at half-staff. Inside, the Royals paid tribute to Ventura by putting his picture on the Crown Vision.
— Ariel Rothfield KSHB (@arothfield) January 22, 2017
By Monday morning, most merchandise stores in the metro had sold out of jerseys and T-shirts with Ventura’s name and number on the back.
Baseball card stores were also selling out of Ventura cards.
"I sold several of his minor league cards before he came to the major leagues and autographs,” said Heide Marie Stevens of Show Me Sports Cards. “Most of them they want rookie cards, their first cards because they are always the most expensive cards. Then they like signatures, little pieces of jerseys, they just love the game."
Fans on social media used the hashtag #RIPAce to pay their respects.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) January 22, 2017
Hurts even worse when it hits home #RIPAce
— Jamison Raines (@jraines1229) January 22, 2017
— Kristi Jones (@kjoneskc) January 23, 2017
Kansas City Royals players share memories on social media about Ventura
Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy and Christian Colon were seen at the vigil at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday night.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) January 23, 2017
Other Royals players shared their thoughts on social media on the passing of their fellow player.
Yordano was a fierce competitor on the field with a bright smile in the clubhouse. We would not have won 15' WS without him. Thank you Ace
— Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) January 23, 2017
— Salvador Perez (@SalvadorPerez15) January 23, 2017
Love u bro! We're family til the end no matter what! https://t.co/o5u8w0F98u
— Eric Hosmer (@TheRealHos35) January 23, 2017