MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

When tragedy finds athlete, reality hits for fans

Deaths of Ventura, Marte latest reminder that sports heroes aren't invincible

When tragedy finds athlete, reality hits for fans

Reality doesn't play favorites. And a reminder is delivered too often.

Yordano Ventura, the 25-year-old wunderkind of the Royals' rotation, and onetime top Braves prospect Andy Marte, 33, who spent the past two years playing in Korea, died in separate auto accidents on Sunday morning in the Dominican Republic.

'Great kid with a big heart. We lost a brother.'
Former MLB infielder Marte dies at 33

Once again, it's a reminder that athletes are just as vulnerable as the guy next door.

Fans go into mourning. They hold vigils. They remember the role Ventura played in the Royals ending a 30-year title drought by knocking off the Mets in the 2015 World Series. They talk about what could have been with Marte, who was ranked No. 9 on MLB.com's 2005 Top 50 Prospects list and spent parts of five seasons with Indians from 2006-10 before bouncing around the Minors for a few seasons and then deciding to play in Korea in '15.

Justice on Andy Marte's passing

Fans want to think of their heroes as invincible. But they aren't.

We are given those occasional reminders of their mortal being.

Like on Sunday.

Or like last Sept. 25, when in the early hours on a Sunday morning, right-handed pitcher Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old Cuban defector who was considered the foundation for the Marlins' rotation, died in a boating accident.

It's not an everyday occurrence, but when it happens, it shocks the sporting public -- particularly when it happens to a well-known player. Like Sept. 23, 1978, when Lyman Bostock played in an a Saturday afternoon game for the Angels against the White Sox at Comiskey Park, which turned out to be his final game.

Bostock had made the trip to his hometown of Gary, Ind., southeast of Chicago, for a postgame family picnic. Riding in the car of his uncle, who was taking his girlfriend and a friend of hers to their house, Bostock was killed by a shotgun blast from the estranged husband of the woman seated in the backseat of the car.

And the following Aug. 2, on an off-day between the Yankees playing in Chicago and at home, All-Star catcher Thurman Munson decided to spent time with his family in Akron, Ohio, and died that afternoon when a plane he was flying to practice landings and takeoffs crashed.

It was 27 years later, Oct. 11, 2006, that Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, four days after New York was eliminated from the postseason, was killed, along with his flight instructor, when their small plane crashed into a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan.

It's never easy. It's a shock wave that not only hits the friends of the victims, but the fans who vicariously live through the efforts of their baseball heroes.

It was on June 22, 2002, that Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile never made it from the team hotel to Wrigley Field for a game against the Cubs. Calls to his hotel room went unanswered. Security finally went to the room and found the right-hander dead from a blockage of the arteries supplying blood to the heart.

Sometimes they are innocent victims.

Nick Adenhart had pitched six shutout innings for the Angels in Anaheim back on April 9, 2009, and two hours later, Adenhart and two of his friends were killed in a car wreck when a man on probation from a felony drunk driving conviction ran a red light and hit their car. The man, whose blood-alcohol was nearly three times the legal limit, was sentenced to 51 years to life in prison.

And sometimes it is the tragic end to what was to be a fun time.

On March 22, 1993, following an off-day barbeque, a group of Indians players decided to go out on Little Lake Nellie, near the team's Winter Haven, Fla., training camp, in the evening on a gator hunt. Pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews died when the boat crashed into a dock.

Bob Ojeda survived the crash, and to this day, he admits in various interviews, "I was shaken to my core."

Fans don't have that tie that an Ojeda would have had with Olin and Crews, but they do have that allegiance to their heroes, whom they see as bigger than life.

Ortiz on Ventura and Marte

And then that moment comes, like it did with Ventura and Marte on Sunday morning, that the reality hits.

They are human beings, just like the fans.

And they are not immune to the tragedies of life.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.