Before playing Royals, A's remember Ventura

Before playing Royals, A's remember Ventura

ARLINGTON -- Yordano Ventura was just 23 years old when he tossed seven scoreless innings to force a Game 7 against Santiago Casilla's Giants in the 2014 World Series. And Ventura was far too young, 25, when he died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 22.

Casilla, now with the A's, may not have known Ventura well, but Casilla speaks of Ventura in a brotherly way -- a byproduct of the close-knit baseball community found in the Dominican Republic.

"His death hurt me a lot," Casilla said through an interpreter. "I remember watching him pitch in the World Series and how he went about himself, and the way he took the game so seriously. It hurt me to see him go."

In loving memory: Yordano Ventura

Casilla and the A's will be at Kauffman Stadium on Monday afternoon when the Royals host their home opener. A special pregame ceremony has been planned to honor Ventura, with his mother, Marisol Hernandez, throwing out the first pitch.

Upon hearing this, Casilla stumbled to speak, saying only, "Wow," between intermittent pauses before adding, "I think it's going to be important to see her go out and be part of that, but I think it's going to be sad."

Another A's reliever, Ryan Madson, was a teammate of Ventura on the 2015 World Series-champion Royals club and remembers him being "kind of Jekyll and Hyde."

"On the field, he was one guy, super competitor, and if you were on the other team, you probably didn't like him. But when he was your teammate in your clubhouse, off the field, he was awesome," Madson said. "He really cared about each guy doing well. I felt that. It wasn't just about him, and that's the thing. People don't realize that, that he really pulled for his teammates a lot and cared a lot. He was truly caring as a teammate."

Ventura was well known for his willingness to stand up for his teammates, and he often earned the ire of his opponents as a result. One notable incident came against the A's in April 2015. A day after former Oakland infielder Brett Lawrie made a hard slide that injured the Royals' Alcides Escobar, Ventura plunked Lawrie with a pitch and was ejected after a benches-clearing altercation.

Ventura's emotional misadventures stemmed from his loyalty, Madson believes.

"He was just the ultimate competitor out there," Madson said. "That's all it was. He was a tremendous guy, caring. He was a lot of fun. Always happy, always smiling and always working. He was always working hard. So I had a ton of respect for him as an older player looking at him as a young guy."

The Dominican has seen too many tragic accidents unfold in recent years, and Casilla has teamed up with Cubs pitcher and San Cristobal neighbor Pedro Strop to speak to young players in their homeland about the dangers of driving recklessly and the importance of making good decisions.

In Ventura's case, officials are still awaiting a toxicology report that won't be made public, though there was no sign of alcohol at the scene.

"It's sad," Casilla said. "For us, in the baseball community and baseball being the No. 1 sport in the Dominican, it's very tough. These things don't just hurt us as a group of baseball players, they hurt the country as a whole to see someone that young go that fast."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.