KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy remembered Yordano Ventura as a man who did everything with passion and lived for baseball. First baseman Eric Hosmer said Ventura was the fun-loving little brother that everyone watched out for as he slowly grew into a young man.
Ventura’s fiery passion, million-watt smile and strong work ethic were mentioned several times Friday as his teammates, coaches, Royals support staff and administrators met privately to tell stories, shed tears and laugh about the 25-year-old’s impact on their lives before he died in a car crash Sunday in the Dominican Republic. They recalled his rise from joining the Royals organization in 2008 as a skinny 17-year-old right-handed pitcher until he brought his blazing fastball to the major league team in 2013.
Ventura pitched four years for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.
Speakers said Ventura struggled with insecurity and was often unpredictable but also carried a strong work ethic and the desire to be the best. They laughed about his sometimes-unusual clothes, penchant for calling people late at night for no good reason and constant smiling.
Duffy said Ventura, who was nicknamed Ace, “lived with so much passion, everything this dude did he did with passion.” He said the team would use that passion as fuel during the upcoming season.
“You will see every time we play it will be like it’s the last game. We will bring it. We will cherish each other on and off the field,” said Duffy, his voice trembling at times. “Man, this is hard. You’re a stud, Ace, and I know without a doubt I will see you again someday.”
Friday’s gathering was the first time many Royals were together since Ventura died. Chris Young, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Jason Vargas, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Whit Merrifield and Christian Colon were among those present.
Manager Ned Yost said when he first heard something had happened to Ventura, he worried that he had injured himself before finding out the worst. He has been “floored from that point to this point today” and struggling to figure out how to overcome the loss. He said faith and time will help fill the hole left by Ventura’s death.
“(God) gave him to us for 25 years,” Yost said. “We were able to enjoy him, to know him and to love him. What was special is that he loved us back.”
Pitching coach Dave Eiland said he felt as if he lost a son when Ventura died, and remembered that everyone always wanted to watch Ventura pitch, even though he never knew how he would do
“What I did know was he was going to give us everything he had,” he said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen but we knew it would be exciting.”
Hosmer, who attended Ventura’s funeral along with several other players, coaches and executives, said Ventura’s family and friends appreciated how the Royals watched out for Ventura and helped him grow.
“It’s unfair but at the end of the day, Ace is reminding us how strong a bond we have here,” Hosmer said. “Ace is going to keep us together and keep us a strong family. Now he will be the one constantly looking out for us.”
The Royals announced the establishment of the ACE 30 Memorial Fund to honor Ventura. The fund, established through Royals Charities, will support youth baseball in the Dominican Republic, where Ventura spent most of the offseason while working out at the Royals Dominican Academy. Ventura also supported Liga Kelly, the baseball program he grew up playing with in his hometown of Las Terrenas.
The event was held shortly before the opening of the Royals annual FanFest, where more tributes to Ventura were planned and fans will get their first chance to mourn with and support the team.
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