I write this with a heavy heart. Not only was Yordano Ventura an exceptionally talented young player, but he was a Royal, and that means a little bit more to the people of this city nowadays.
Let’s go back to 2014 for a moment. Ervin Santana had just left for Atlanta in free agency and would be taking his 211 innings and 3.24 ERA with him. There was a noticeable hole to fill in the rotation of a franchise now mired by a 28-year playoff drought. Fans clamored all winter long for the team to bring in various over-the-hill and overpriced free agent pitchers. Dayton (Royals’ GM) however, did not bite on the likes of Dan Haren, Annibal Sanchez, or Kyle Lohse. He confidently projected that one of our young pitchers would be more than capable of taking on the challenge.
As the Royals broke camp it was announced that 5’11” 160lbs. Yordano Ventura would be that guy. A town of 3 million held their doubts. Well, at least 2,999,999 of us did. If there’s one thing to say about Yordano it’s that if chicks dig confidence and the radar gun, then he must’ve had his choice of women. He carried himself like a 4-time Cy Young winner since the day he debuted. Some called it arrogant. Others, cocky. But needless to say it was exactly what this team needed. A group of ‘aw-shucks’ good ‘ol boys were finally paired up with a kid that would’ve stepped in the ring with Mike Tyson if the former heavyweight champion would’ve so much as looked at him funny.
Yordano, 22, set the American League ablaze in his first full season as a major leaguer — throwing his fastball at an astounding average velocity of 97.0mph. His 14-10 record and 3.20 ERA garnered him a 6th place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. But don’t let his placing fool you. 4 of the 5 players to finish ahead of him were 25 years or older. The winner was Jose Abreu, a 27-year old defect who had already logged half a decade on the back of his Cuban baseball card. Ventura had proven he could play with the best players on the planet and in doing so had a major role in leading Kansas City back to the playoffs.
Oh but the kid didn’t stop there, in his first postseason start he went to LA and pitched 7 innings of 1-run baseball against the team with the best record in the game. There was never a moment too big for him. That includes an elimination Game 6 of the World Series… The day after one of his best friends, Cardinals’ top prospect Oscar Taveras, died. It would’ve been easy to crumble considering the circumstances, but backing-down wasn’t in Yordano’s nature. He went out and threw the game of his career on the biggest possible stage: 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs.
Yordano’s world, much like that of every 20-something individual was filled with exuberance, turmoil, and every emotion in between. Tomorrow I turn 25 years old (the age at which he passed away.) Just personally since he debuted in 2013 I have: held 3 different jobs, become an uncle of 2, gone through a break-up, met the girl I love, cried myself to sleep, laughed until it hurt, lied to people I cherish, gave forgiveness to those I don’t care for, and even found myself in an Austin, Texas ambulance after a night of overindulgence. I choose to be vulnerable here because I’d like for us all to come off the mountain top when we analyze Yordano. He was playing professional baseball at the highest level when most of us take a “victory lap” of 6 credit hours to graduate from college. We all make msitakes. His just happened to be in front of fan-filled stadiums and documented by high definition cameras.
The ‘what-ifs’ will never perish. We can cement them as part of his legacy. It may turn out that this was the easier option for us fans. We can always dream of what he would’ve been. We won’t have to watch the baby-faced fireballer lose his velocity and child-like passion. He will never play on another team. And while I stood in the corner on the idea of trading him, I find myself seeing the silver-lining here today. Yordano Ventura has, and will have, only ever donned the Kansas City Royals uniform. There hasn’t been a more fitting use of the city’s mantra than it’s use here today. Yordano Ventura, #ForeverRoyal.