Yordano Ventura, Eternal
On October 28, 2014, a Cardinals prospect by the name of Oscar Taveras was buried in Sosua, Dominican Republic, the victim of a deadly road accident that killed both Taveras and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo. Thousands, including Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny, were in attendance to mourn. It was utterly tragic, and it shocked the entirety of the baseball world. Tavares was filled with boundless hope and talent, and there were many scouts who believed his final destination would be Cooperstown.
On that same day, a friend and fellow Dominican Yordano Ventura suited up for game six of the 2014 World Series. The Royals were down a game in the series and needed to win to force a decisive game seven, hopefully clinching a title for the first time since 1985. On that night Ventura honored his friend Taveras with a simple gesture, “RIP O.T. #18” penciled on to his cap. He went on to pitch seven shutout innings, and would help force an exciting game seven that ultimately ended in a Giants win. No one really knew how prescient that simple gesture would become.
We now find ourselves in 2017, and Ventura is no longer with us, lost to the same accident that stole Taveras, and Andy Marte–on the very same day. While in the city of Juan Andrian, Ventura’s Jeep flipped on a curved turn, and his story ended there. Ventura was taken from this world at just 25-years-old.
There are so many ways to talk about this young man. We could talk about his talent, which was immeasurable. We could talk about the great moments he provided for fans of baseball and fans in Kansas City, which will last a lifetime. He helped bring a World Series to the city for the first time in 30 years, and he provided a bright light for a franchise and a city that had only seen darkness for a generation. That blazing fastball, and that trailing leg kick, will endure the ages.
But to really get a sense of the impact of a human being, the most subjective thing imaginable, you look at the effect he had on the people around him, the echoes of a rock tossed in a lake. Instead of ripples, which reside long after death, his teammates, family, and friends are only left with unimaginable grief.
When Ventura was buried, the Kansas City Star took a record of all that happened that day as Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, the Royals, and the community walked the two miles to carry Ventura’s casket to his burial site, just a stone’s throw away from where he first learned to toss a baseball.
Ventura was just 16-years-old when he was signed by the Royals, so it’s fair to say that the organization did as much raising and teaching as a family would, and it felt as such. Salvador Perez, his longtime battery-mate, said, “He wasn’t just a teammate or a friend. He was a brother… We’ve known him since he started playing for Kansas City… His moments aside, he had a big heart. It’s incredibly sad what we’re going through right now.”
If anything can be said about the sport of baseball, it’s that it can be viewed through the same prism as life. In the game of baseball itself, there is a lifetime. The first inning is birth–endless optimism, expectation, hope–literally anything can happen. A scrub can be a star, and vice-versa. Even the worst team can beat the best, at least in the first inning. And as the game ages, much like a human, there are regrets, missed opportunities, successes, and the like. Games can be cut short, by weather or by circumstance; there are countless examples of that. Ventura’s death was a devastating strike of lightning in the sixth inning–we’ll never know how the game truly ends.
And spectating itself is a form of life. Fans’ moods, both good and bad, live and die with a season and a team. We’ll be seeing pitchers and catchers report in just a month, where every team is a potential World Series winner. And fans from around the country and world flock to see the players merely toss a ball, escaping from the endless monotony of daily life, an otherwise boring and sometimes frivolous endeavor that sometimes feels like just a ticking clock closer to death. Baseball is a distraction from the scariest and most unknown human experience.
That may seem morbid, but it’s also noble. In the 1942 Albert Camus essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus examines the futility of the Greek legend of Sisyphus, the man punished by the Gods in that he was forced to push a rock up a hill, only to find himself back at the bottom when the task was done. But even though the task was meaningless, and was doomed to repetition for eternity, there was a sense of heroism in understanding the absurdity of the task but performing it admirably anyway. In baseball, we repeat the same exercise, both as fan and as player, endlessly until the end of days, and only one team out of thirty finds success. And even for those that do, the rock goes back to the bottom of the hill come Spring.
Baseball in recent days has been wrapped in loss. Taveras, Marte, Ventura, and especially Jose Fernandez’s deaths have taught teammates and fans alike that baseball and life is even more precious than previously thought, that the living embodiments of pure joy could be effaced in a flash. Like life in general, you cherish each day, each minute, each game, each inning, because a rain delay may be coming, and no one knows when the game will end.