Danny Duffy and Christian Colon pushed through the glass doors outside Gate C at Kauffman Stadium, where a small band of Royals fans stood amid the biting air.
On a day in which they memorialized a fallen teammate and a friend, Duffy and Colon stopped to acknowledge the crowd. With hugs. With handshakes.
Over the ensuing two minutes, as he embraced more than a dozen strangers, Duffy spoke only once — “You all right?” he asked a teary-eyed fan — before disappearing into a black SUV in the Kauffman Stadium parking lot.
“That’s why we cry today,” Royals fan Ben Holmes said. “Because that’s why these guys mean so much to us.”
Royals fans flocked to Kauffman Stadium on Sunday after news broke that pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a car crash early that morning in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.
A couple of hundred people returned to the Truman Sports Complex later in the evening for a candlelight vigil initiated on social media. Colon, Duffy and pitcher Ian Kennedy arrived just before 7 p.m.
“Thank you guys for all the support,” Colon said while fighting through tears. “You guys are great. We’re a community — a great city.
“We’ll overcome this together.”
After some applause, Duffy said, “We know ya’ll loved him. We loved him, too.” In a conversation with a fan, he added, “It’s up to us to make his legacy live on.”
Earlier in the day, flowers, candles, hats and a few photographs were left outside the entry gate behind home plate. On the outer edge of the pile of memorabilia sat a brown wooden baseball bat, with an inscription in black sharpie: “Let’s throw fire forever,” it read.
In white chalk, Royals fan Michael Vittoria wrote, “RIP Ace, 1991-2017.” He paused, then added one more sentence to the sidewalk:
“To the best competitor ever.”
At 11:30 a.m., a Royals employee emerged from a set of double doors and lowered the flags surrounding the stadium to half-staff.
“When you grow so close to these players — whether it’s baseball, football, whatever — when you lose one, you kinda feel like you’re losing one of your own,” said Katie Okenquist, who dropped off flowers with her husband and 2-year-old son, Alex. “It was just a really hard thing to hear this morning.”
The Royals placed a picture of Ventura on their centerfield scoreboard, one in which he is standing on the mound, blue socks stretched to his knees, pointing toward the sky.
“In loving memory,” the message read in white letters.
Outside the stadium, longtime fan Byron Brooks was one of the first to arrive, along with his 9-year-old daughter. His ringtone resonated in the parking lot, honoring his favorite Royals player.
“Oh, baby, we’re going to the World Series again,” Ventura could be heard saying on the ringtone.
The majority of Royals fans who traveled to Kauffman Stadium said they received the news via social media. After scrolling across Twitter, Michael Schley, 20, got in his blue pickup, drove to the stadium and dropped off a bouquet of flowers.
Some fans took pictures. Most stood silently behind the growing memorial.
“He was the ultimate Royal,” Schley said. “I remember in Game 6 when he didn’t want to come out of the game. That always stuck with me.”