Services attended by family, Royals' front-office members, players
By Jeffrey Flanagan and Jesse Sanchez
MLB.com |@FlannyMLB |
They came by the thousands -- friends, fans, family and teammates included -- to pay final respects for Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura in his hometown of Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, on Tuesday.
The morning started inside the home of Ventura's mother, Marisol Hernandez, where a final viewing was held for Ventura's Royals family, who one by one hugged Marisol and offered condolences.
At times, Marisol and Angela Martinez, the mother of Ventura's child, were inconsolable. Marisol fell into Ventura's teammate Eric Hosmer's arms and cried, "Mi hijo (my son)!"
A few feet away, Ventura's aunt fell into catcher Salvador Perez's arms, sobbing.
"Be very strong," Perez said to Ventura's mother. " We are here to support you, and we will never forget what you told us back at your home. After God is family. We are extremely sorry for the loss of our brother Ventura. Only God knows why these things happen."
Royals general manager Dayton Moore, tears in his eyes, tried to console the family.
"The memory that will last with me," Moore told MLB.com, "is the pain and hurt on [Marisol's] face. It breaks your heart to see that pain on her face."
Marisol told the Royals that no (World Series) ring or fake friends can replace life and family. She asked to use her son's life as an example of how life is so fragile, and to make the right choices.
Outside, kids wearing Ventura's jersey No. 30 cried and hugged their parents.
From there, a long funeral procession began through the streets of Las Terranes, where Ventura grew up and learned to play baseball, the game he loved.
Ventura, 25, died early Sunday morning in a car accident, cutting short a baseball career that was most certainly on the rise.
The procession marched for miles, led by a truck bearing Ventura's casket. Seated in back alongside the casket were Hosmer and Ventura's long-time battery mate, Perez.
Walking behind in the massive procession were Moore, team president Dan Glass, scouting director Lonnie Goldberg and assistant general manager Rene Francisco, who signed Ventura as a skinny 17-year-old.
They all marched with the townspeople to the stadium where Ventura first played -- Estadio Municipal -- a sign of unity and togetherness in grief. And they crowded into the stadium to remember Ventura's brilliance on the mound.
Perez addressed the crowd there and spoke of "mi hermano." And everywhere, there were tears.
"On behalf of everyone on the team, all of Kansas City, the state of Missouri: He was not just a friend, a teammate, but he was a brother," Perez said while standing over the casket. "We know Yordano from when he started playing for Kansas City. He had a great heart, and it is very sad that we are here today."
Finally, the procession somberly marched to the cemetery for Ventura's final resting place, again led by the truck carrying Ventura's casket, this time flanked by Volquez and Johnny Cueto, the two who mentored Ventura during the Royals' World Series championship year in 2015.
Trailing the truck were Moore and Yost, walking in unity with the townspeople.
And at the cemetery, Ventura's body was laid to rest. A life so full of promise, gone.
Afterward, the crowd of family, friends and teammates somberly walked back toward the streets and eventually back to their homes, hotels or airports. And no doubt, they tried to make sense of the tragedy.
"I remember talking to Ned and to Dan," Moore said, "and we talked about how proud we were of our players who were able to make it, and the players that weren't able to make it, the caring they all showed. We're proud of the Kansas City community, and the outpouring of love that was so evident.
"We're extremely honored by all of that. It's special through these trying times."
Victor Baez, who met Ventura when the pitcher was 14 and was one of his first trainers, described the scene in Las Terrenas as "devastating."
"We're all just hurting right now," were the words Moore had used all week.
Back in Kansas City, flags continued to fly at half-staff at Kauffman Stadium. And memorial flowers mounted outside the stadium's front doors.
The Royals quickly offered Ventura a $28,000 contract. Ventura signed it so fast Francisco didn't even have a chance to inform Moore first.
And it wasn't that long before Ventura's frame filled out as he rose through the Royals' system. He made his debut in September 2013 and burst onto the national spotlight a year later in Game 6 of the World Series, when he shut out the Giants through seven innings in a 10-0 win.
Ironically, Ventura had lost his close friend Oscar Taveras three days before. The Cardinals' outfielder also died in a car accident in the Dominican, on Oct. 26, 2014. Ventura wrote Taveras' initials "O.T." and "#18" on his cap for that game.
"[Ventura] was just an incredible talent," teammate Chris Young said. "And a kind and polite person."
Baez remembered the talent as well.
"I remember how fast he ran, and how he had the perfect body of a shortstop, but also telling him that he was going to have to pitch, because his bat just wasn't there," Baez said. "He didn't like that at first, but he later found joy in just blowing up hitters and striking them out.
"Yordano wasn't a crazy guy. He was exciting and sometimes impulsive, but he was a good kid. This is a big blow for the country. Every time he pitched, the entire country watched him.
"I believe he was one of the best, he just needed to get it all together and mature. Maturity would allow him to be safe and make smart decisions. This loss is like losing a family member. Today, this city is crying. We are all crying."
Members of the Aguilas, Ventura's winter league team, mourned inside with the family. Former Major Leaguers Octavio Dotel and Guillermo Mota were also present Tuesday morning.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.