It’s amazing how time flies. It’s already one year since Yordano Ventura tragically passed. Here is how I remember him. So many things stick out right away but a few linger stronger than the rest to me. Game 6 of the 2014 World Series he paid tribute to his friend Oscar Tavares with an inscription on his hat of “RIP O.T. #18” and then pitched a lights out game by going 7 innings while giving up only 3 hits and no runs forcing a game 7. You could see him out there on the mound in front of the entire world. The entire weight of a 30 year absence from not just World Series play but also of any postseason play. The Royals had a spectacular run in the 2014 postseason thus far and if they wanted to try to win it all they had to win this game. They overcame a huge deficit in the Wild Card game. They had won 7 straight postseason games when they beat the Angels and Orioles just to get to the World Series. Now they were down 3 games to 2 in the World Series and everything rested on the shoulders of this grieving rookie. In the end he held all that weight on his shoulders and triumphed.
I was attending the games on Saturday August 6 and Sunday August 7, 2016 against the Blue Jays. Saturday was the first time I had ever gotten to go on the field for batting practice, it was also the first Rally Mantis game. Sunday is where the Rally Mantis started to become legend and Yordano pitched 6.2 innings giving up only 5 hits and 1 run while Kendrys Morales crushed a grand slam. The Royals won 7 to 1. I was sitting right behind the Blue Jays on deck circle. I purposely picked that seat so I would be able to get a good look at him and was so excited to get to watch Ventura pitch up close. I was focused on every pitch he made. I got some good pictures of him that game, at least good for my phone. I’m glad I did because It was the last game I got to see Ventura pitch in person.
On September 30, 2016 the Royals were long out of playoff contention even with the magic of the Rally Mantis helping out. We were saying goodbye to the starting pitchers one by one as they pitched their last game for the season. This was to be a different day but we did not know it at that time. It would be the last game Yordano Ventura pitched for the Royals. Had we known that it would be the last then I am sure it would have been more like the tribute we gave Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and Escobar at the end of the 2017 season if not more so. That game sticks out to me because when Ventura took the mound he had something written on his hat. On the left side was “18 RIP. O.T” and on the right side was “16 RIP. J.F”. He was paying tribute to two of his friends who had passed. Oscar Tavaras who died before game 6 of the 2014 World Series, who Ventura had memorialized then, and Jose Fernandez of the Marlins who died just a few days before. Ventura started out strong but soon the Indians got to him giving up four runs in in the third inning. He went 6 innings giving up 4 hits and 4 runs. His last pitch was an 85.5 MPH curveball to Tyler Naquin who hit a soft roller back to Ventura. He picked it up and threw to first base for the third out. As he left the field there was no standing ovation, no recognition, no salute from the fans just the normal end of an inning clapping and cheering. Brian Flynn came into the game in the 7th and Yordano Ventura’s baseball career came to a close. He and the Royals ended up loosing that game 7 – 2. If only we could have that moment back how different would it have been. I imagine it would be just like or better than the send off we gave to the boys at the end of the 2017 season.
My final one is Royals Fan Fest 2017. It had been just one week since Ventura had passed. Emotions still ran raw as we were all still grieving. The Royals had set up a memorial for him there. Fans left mementos at a table and signed large picture boards with his picture on them. It was very moving, lots of tear were being shed in that room. Then as I stood in line waiting for a autographs, I saw the news that Danny Duffy was putting together a collection of memorabilia for his mother. By some spectacular coincidence Danny Duffy was the player who showed up to sign autographs in our line. As I got up to him I thanked him for doing this. Told him I was going to send a couple items so watch out for them. He replied that it was not supposed to be made public and thanked me. Before I had to step down I told him I was glad that it was made public because a lot of fans in Royals Nation wanted to help. He looked up smiled and nodded his head.
Thank you Yordano Ventura for the memories. You are still missed and there is still an empty place in our lives. Thanks to you and your memory there have been and will continue to be many good things done in your name through the Royals ACE30 foundation.
Photo Credits: Erza Shaw—Getty Images