One thing I’ll always remember about Yordano Ventura is his follow-through. It seemed impossible that Ventura, a skinny 6-footer, could crank out a 100 mph fastball, but there was nothing subtle or restrained about his delivery. Ventura cranked the ball out of his hand like it was a rusted screw with a stripped head, or the Big Wheel spinning on The Price Is Right. Ventura often finished off his pitches by hopping onto his left foot, swinging his right leg around, and throwing his hands up with a theatrical flourish.
The other thing I’ll remember about Ventura is his propensity for starting fights: with Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Adam Eaton, and Brett Lawrie, just to name a few. Ventura’s combativeness was of a piece with the way he threw a fastball — aggressive, fearless, and unencumbered. While Clayton Kershaw exudes calm control on the mound, Ventura needed to get up to pitch well, and that made him a joy to watch. It was plain to see, watching Ventura, how tense and exciting baseball can be, the agony of believing that every single pitch mattered. Ventura had a nearly unparalleled flair for the dramatic.
Ventura died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic on Sunday morning. He was 25 years old.
Hours before news of Ventura’s death broke in the U.S., it was reported that former Indians third baseman Andy Marte, 33, had died in an unrelated car accident in the Dominican Republic.
It’s tempting at this point, when the shock of Ventura’s death is so new and our emotions are so raw, to attempt to draw larger conclusions, to find consolation elsewhere. While the cause of each crash is under investigation, some will likely focus on the circumstances that make the Dominican Republic’s roads so dangerous, as Jorge Arangure did at Vice when Oscar Taveras died in 2014. Others will discuss how sorely Ventura’s charisma and talent will be missed, as countless columnists did when José Fernández was killed in a boating accident last fall.
Those stories have been told over and over. They’ve become as routine as game recaps now — the look back at the player’s career, links to shocked teammates’ reactions, the sly reference to A.E. Housman, and the search for Larger Meaning. But it seems that nothing ever changes: confident young men still press their luck instead of calling a cab or heading home early; police still enforce DUI laws haphazardly; and the world wakes to another heartbreaking early morning news story. There is no Larger Truth to be gleaned, no redemption or enlightenment to be gained from suffering.
The death of an athlete causes many different kinds of sadness: There’s the personal, private grief of friends and family who’d feel just as devastated if Marte and Ventura had been bus drivers instead of ballplayers. There’s the sorrow of people who knew or followed Ventura and Marte only through their work, but learned to love them just the same. And there’s the loss to the sport, particularly in Ventura’s case, as an unusually talented young man isn’t allowed to finish his career in a usual fashion.
Once again, an athlete who represented an idealized future for baseball died long before his time, replacing hope with now-haunting images of Ventura’s tributes to Taveras and Fernández, and a memory of that follow-through. We’re left to sort through even more heartbreak, and after so many tragic deaths it’s hard to feel anything but numb.