Do you remember where you were on July 8th, 2012? I sure do. Major League Baseball’s mid-summer classic, the All-Star Game, was in Kansas City, which meant I was going to go at any cost. The first stop, however, would be the Futures Game: USA vs. The World. It just sounded cool.
I have very fond memories of that experience. My close friends and I all took some time off work. We’d go play golf, then head to the stadium for the day’s festivities. Those festivities all had to start with a fair amount of tailgating.
I recall some of my friends stating that they don’t necessarily feel the need to go to the Future’s Game, or celebrity softball game, etc. They just wanted to see the home run derby, and the All-Star Game.
Fine by me, but I was going to ALL of it. I was going to see Bill Self crack a home run in the celebrity softball game, and I was going to watch my childhood hero, George Brett, manage Team USA in the Future’s Game.
C’mon! The last time this circus came to town was 1973. Some names from that All-Star game— Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson…just to name a few. Who knows if/when the All-Star Game will return to Kansas City, and who knows if I’ll even have a pulse if/when it does.
I find these Future’s Games fascinating and under-appreciated. I also don’t think Major League Baseball does enough to hype the game. To most, you’re watching a bunch of no-name guys that very few have heard of, and likely will flame out before they even sniff the big leagues. That’s a very glass-half-empty way of looking at it, because what you’re nearly guaranteed to see are some of the baseball super-stars of tomorrow.
Just look at what the folks got to see when they watched the 2015 Future’s Game in Cincinnati—Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Just a couple of 2017 All-Stars and Home Run Derby contestants. I doubt many knew they were seeing, in Judge, a kid that is actually a pre-programmed home run hitting cyborg that tests the limits of baseball stadiums. No, not the field—the entire stadium!
The 2012 Future’s Game proved to be fertile as well. A couple marquee names: Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor. On Wednesday, Arenado will be playing in his third All-Star Game, and Lindor will be playing in his second.
The glass-half-empty crowd is correct, though. You can certainly go back and look at some of the past Future’s Game rosters and see names of guys you’ve never heard of, whose careers likely peaked as a Future’s Game participant.
That 2012 game was no different. I see names that I don’t recognize. For whatever reason, be it injury or plateauing talent, some of those guys just didn’t make it despite being considered Future Stars.
These players are referred to as future “stars” for a reason. They matriculate their way through the minors with great success, gathering the fuel to feed the shine of their star. So much so that a chance at big league stardom seems inevitable, and when they get there, they’ll have a chance to shine for the whole world to see.
Sadly, there comes a day when every “star” burns out, and the shine fades to black. The 2012 Future’s Game in Kansas City, unfortunately, featured a trio of players who shone bright for all the baseball world to see, only have their careers and lives come to an abrupt and violent end—Oscar Taveras, Jose Fernandez, and Yordano Ventura.
All three were featured on the World team in that 2012 Future’s Game tilt. By the end of January, 2017, all three were deceased.
Oscar Taveras, of the St. Louis Cardinals, was on a track to become one of the premier corner-outfielders in the National League. He had put up ridiculous numbers the year prior in A-ball. In 2012, he ended up slashing .321 AVG/.380 OBP/.953 OPS.
Taveras finally got his shot on May 31st, 2014. He collected his first big-league hit that game, a home run no less. Taveras went on to log 233 more at-bats that year. While his numbers were not awe-inspiring, no one doubted that he was still on track to be a star.
Taveras logged his final at-bat on September 28th, 2014. Less than a month later, on October 26th, 2014, Taveras was killed in a high-speed crash that also claimed the life of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo.
If you’ll recall, there was something going on in Kansas City about that time. Just two days after the death of Oscar Taveras, his close friend, Yordano Ventura was taking the mound to face the San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series.
Most remember how that went. Ventura threw fire, and spun seven innings of three-hit baseball, holding the Giants to no runs, as the Royals cruised to a 10-0 win, and forcing a Game 7 showdown. All of this will donning the initials of O.T. on his forever-oversized ball cap. He undoubtedly made his fallen friend and countryman very proud.
Given the stage and circumstances, that Game 6 performance was likely Ventura’s hallmark performance. Just 23 years of age at the time, Ventura had all the ear-markings of an ace pitcher in the making. He was already drawing Pedro Martinez comparisons in many baseball circles. You’ll find no higher praise for a young Dominican pitcher.
Ventura went on to help the Royals regain the World Series championship crown in 2015.
As is the case with every up-and-coming star player, they’re first inserted as part of a team’s plan, but soon, they become the team’s plan. Ventura had already pitched in two World Series as part of the Royals plan, but was soon becoming their Ace, and someone they planned to lean on.
2016 didn’t go as planned. While the Royals decided to lean on Ventura more, he faltered. Tantrums, on-field skirmishes, a nearly suicidal decision to buck up to Mike Trout, and otherwise sub-standard pitching performances made that season one to forget for Ventura and the Royals.
The Royals failed to make the postseason that year, but NOBODY had given up hope that Ventura was still going to be their ace after an offseason reboot. That offseason, only a few weeks before pitchers and catchers were to report for Spring Training, Ventura’s star burned out. On January 22nd, 2017, news came across the wire that crushed the souls of all Royals Nation. BREAKING: Yordano Ventura, 25, killed in car crash in the Dominican Republic.
No, no, no. This can’t be.
When I got out of church that morning, I recall having way more text messages than I should. I’m not that important, and certainly not that important that early on a Sunday morning.
I had just finished buckling my youngest into his car-seat, sat down behind the wheel and checked my phone. I was reading the tragic news in a text sent from a friend as my wife blurted, “Nooo. Yordano’s dead.” I was reading the words, and I was hearing the words, but I couldn’t understand the words.
I remember having to sit there in that church parking lot for a couple minutes, thinking there had to have been some mistake. Hoping beyond hope that this was an unconfirmed story, and a mistake had been made. All the while, having to explain to our oldest, 4, who Yordano is, and why that news made mommy and daddy sad.
That ride home, while only blocks away from our home, seemed to take forever. A dash to the living room TV confirmed exactly what I didn’t want to see. Yordano was gone. The rest of that day was lost, coming to grips with the fact that we’ve all seen Ventura throw fire for the last time. #RIPAce
The All-Star Game and all its festivities being in Miami this year re-opens similar wounds for baseball fans in that neck of the woods. This time last year, Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was suiting up for the 2016 All-Star Game.
This was not unfamiliar territory for Jose Fernandez, because soon after appearing in that 2012 Future’s Game in Kansas City, he promptly made his first All-Star team the following season as a rookie. He went ahead and secured the National League Rookie of the Year trophy that season as well.
Being in Kansas City, you don’t see many Miami Marlins games. However, whenever he was pitching, I remember watching. I recall texting a friend during one of Fernandez’s routine dominant pitching outings, stating that I’ve never seen anyone carve up lineups the way this guy does.
Where Fernandez and Ventura differ is that Ventura was likely on the way to super-stardom, but Fernandez was already there the moment he came on the scene. Fernandez wasn’t just the ace of the Marlins pitching staff, he was on a very short-list of the most dominant pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. To me, Fernandez appeared to be one of those special players whose talents go well beyond stardom, and was on a path to greatness—or even legend.
Sadly, the similarity that Fernandez and Ventura share are that their careers and lives were cut short. Just four short months prior to Ventura’s passing, another Sunday morning was marred by the breaking news that Fernandez had been killed in a boating accident in Miami.
Looking back, it seems as though that 2012 Future’s Game was cut from the mold of those old choose-your-own-adventure books I used to read in middle-school. I recall the anxiety of being on something like page 48, having to make a decision (choosing my own adventure), being prompted to turn to a specific page correlated with the decision I made, only to find out that the decision I made led to an undesirable ending to my story.
What followed, of course, was a mad scramble back to page 48.
This game is similar in that for some it was a path to greatness, or just making it. For others, a path to a career of unfulfilled goals, and dreams cut short.
Sadly, for that 2012 trio, there was a path to untimely and tragic deaths, an ending unfitting and undesired by all. This is a stark reminder that in the game of life, unfortunately, there is no going back to page 48.
Oh, so how did that game turn out?
USA was down 4-0 after the first three innings, but went on to route the World team, 17-5. Nick Castellanos took home the game MVP hardware, going 3-4, scoring three runs, and highlighting his evening with a three-run homer.
Then Royals top prospect, Wil Myers, finished 2-4 with three RBI.
Ventura pitched. As I recall, from my nose-bleed vantage point, he looked extremely young. Imagine that, players looking young at a Future’s Game, right? No, he looked YOUNG. He looked like a kid going out there to throw a ceremonial “first-pitch”.
Ventura did throw the first pitch, and several after it, lighting up the radar gun, and holding the USA team scoreless in his only inning of work.
In the end, and in spite of the lopsided result, I was privileged to watch blooming greatness in that 2012 Future’s Game.
Like a good book, these games serve as the beginning chapters in a player’s career, setting you up for an interesting and unpredictable journey. Some will end in glory, others in defeat, and for an unfortunate few tragedy lurks.
Rest in peace, Oscar, Jose and Yordano.