It’s been a long time since the Kansas City Royals have retired a number. It’s time to do it again.
It’s now been two days since news first broke of Yordano Ventura‘s passing. It still just feels like the lingering effects of a bad dream.
It’s an odd feeling. I’m restless and unsettled. I’m angry, I’m sad, and I’m confused. I’ve never been so personally affected by the death of a celebrity as this one and again, it’s an odd feeling.
This isn’t someone I ever met or shared a laugh with. I’ve never spent time with this person and yet, it feels like I’ve watched him grow up.
I watched him make his debut at the tail end of the 2013 season. I remember how excited I was for him to make his debut. This young kid who was small in stature but with an ability to throw fire was going to change the lives of the Kansas City Royals and their fans forever.
White Cleat Beat
I also remember exactly where I was for that game. I was sitting in a recovery room at the hospital with my uncle who had just beaten cancer.
He instilled my love for this game and this team in me at a young age and we suffered many years of Royals’ baseball together. I lived in Colorado at the time, so every chance we got to watch a game together was special.
We both watched as he showed poise and promise in his debut against the Cleveland Indians. It now seems fitting that he would end his career pitching against the same team. I’ll always remember where I was for that game also. I was with the same uncle, but this time we were in attendance.
There was nothing spectacular about that game. The Indians trounced the Royals just as they had done all season in 2016, but Yordano was Yordano. Francisco Lindor showed up the Royals on a double and Yordano didn’t shy away from letting him know it when he next got up to bat.
Maturity wasn’t always Ventura’s strong point. It’s something that he struggled with at times throughout his all too short career, but it’s something that everyone in Kansas City secretly smiled about. It’s probably the same feeling a parent gets watching a little brother stand up for his big brother even if it did result in a black eye.
Yordano Ventura is never going to be remembered for his stats. A record of 38-31 with a 3.89 earned run average are far from stellar numbers over the span of a four-year career. Years from now, people aren’t going to talk about his 4.66 ERA in the postseason, because in the end, the KC Royals were back-to-back ALCS champions and World Series Champions in 2015.
In the middle of all of the success, Yordano Ventura was always one of the key players. He was always in the middle of the celebration. He was always ready to fight for his brothers on the field.
Jumping to retire the number of player who was far from a Hall of Famer is a very reactionary response to this tragic event, but it’s a move the Royals should make to immortalize Yordano Ventura in Royals’ lore.
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It’s not the statistics that make him a Kansas City Royals’ legend. It’s the fire and flair with which he played the game.
It’s the memories he created for people like myself and what they were doing during his debut, or during game six, or even during his fights. It’s the tragic way that his career ended and the promise and potential that will go unrealized.
These are the things that he’ll be remembered for. These are the things that earned his number a spot alongside the likes of Brett, White, and Howser.
Years from now, some kid will look up to his father, or perhaps his uncle, and ask what those numbers in the outfield mean. They’ll recount all the fond memories that George Brett, Dick Howser, Frank White, and Yordano Ventura brought to them and to this city.
They’ll recall in Ventura a promising star that never got a chance to live up to his full potential. An athlete that epitomized Kansas City sports in the thought that “maybe this is the year of the breakout”.
They’ll recall a scrappy and scrawny player who was willing to stare down the biggest opponents and send a message with his live arm that he and his brothers weren’t to be bullied. They’ll recall a 23 year old man, who on the biggest stage honored a fallen brother with a maturity and performance well beyond his years, only to befall the same tragic fate himself.
There are those who think retiring his number is irrational, but what are any of us during this time of mourning if not irrational?
I trust the KC Royals to celebrate and memorialize Yordano Ventura in the best way possible. They have always handled delicate family matters with respect and class. But right now I hope to be the dad with a tear in his eye answering my child’s question about those numbers in the outfield.