Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, whose electric arm and confident demeanor helped lead Kansas City to a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015, died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic early Sunday. He was 25.
Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.
Ventura is the second young star pitcher to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, 24, was among three men killed in a boating accident in September.
Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.
With the fitting nickname of “Ace,” Ventura burst onto the baseball scene with a 100 mph fastball and an explosive attitude to match. He was a fierce competitor always willing to challenge hitters inside, then deal with the ramifications when they decided to charge the mound.
Not surprisingly, he quickly became a fan favorite as Kansas City embraced baseball once again.
“Our prayers right now are with Yordano’s family as we mourn this young man’s passing,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. “He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano.”
Royals teammates took to Twitter to share their sorrow.
“I love you my brother. I’m in disbelief and don’t know what to say. I love you ACE,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: “I love you Ace. I don’t know what to say other than I’m going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE.”
Fans began arriving at Kauffman Stadium shortly after Ventura’s death was announced, leaving flowers, hats and other mementos outside the stadium. Flags outside the ballpark also were lowered to half-staff.
Before his start in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura paid tribute to his close friend and countryman, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, who had been killed days earlier in a car accident in the Dominican Republic at the age of 22.
Just hours after Taveras’ funeral, Ventura put “RIP O.T #18” on his hat and also wrote messages on his glove, cleats and the mound before throwing his first pitch. Ventura proceeded to shut out San Francisco for seven innings in a win.
“If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me and very proud,” Ventura said after that game. “Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I’m going to miss him a lot.”
The Royals lost Game 7 the next day, but came back to win the World Series the next year, beating the New York Mets in five games for their first crown since 1985.
Ventura signed a $23 million, five-year deal with the Royals shortly before he started on opening day in 2015.
The right-hander went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA last season. He was suspended for nine games — cut to eight on appeal — after hitting Orioles star Manny Machado with a fastball, leading to a brawl.
Marte, 33, last played in the majors in 2014 with Arizona. He spent the past two years in South Korea last year.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura,” players’ union executive Tony Clark said. “It’s never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America.”
Fernandez was killed late last season when his boat crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach in the early morning hours.
It wasn’t certain whether Fernandez was driving the boat when it crashed on Sept. 25. He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, above Florida’s legal limit of 0.08, according to autopsy reports released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Ventura wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.
Ventura was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the long-downtrodden Royals reach the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades. He proceeded to dominate San Francisco in both of his starts.
In 2015, now firmly entrenched in the rotation, Ventura helped lead Kansas City back to the World Series, pitching well in two starts against Toronto in the AL championship Series. The Royals went on to beat the Mets to win their second championship.
Not surprisingly, the Royals moved quickly to sign their burgeoning young ace to a new contract through the 2019 season that included two more options that could have kept him in Kansas City.
Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura represented a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when Ventura heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals’ academy located on his picturesque island home.
Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.
But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential in his rapid rise. He made his big league debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.
He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as Hosmer and Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League — rare heights the organization had not experienced in decades.