In the hours before his custom white Jeep careened off a road and ripped through a guard rail near the Dominican town of Juan Adrian, Yordano Ventura was enjoying the company of friends on Saturday evening at a festival in the province of San Jose de Ocoa.
The partygoers packed like sardines into a city block amongst trucks and vehicles blasting loud music, a row of food tents lining the middle of the scene. The event was billed as Patronales 2017, an annual festival honoring Our Lady of Altagracia, or High Grace, the patron saint of Ocoa and the entire Dominican Republic.
Ventura, the Royals’ pitcher and Dominican native, was with friends, staying at a hotel in the area, according to Jacobo Mateo Moquete, a public information officer for the Commission on Military and Police for the Department of Public Works.
By the end of the night Saturday, Ventura would leave the party and lose control of his Jeep on a mountainous stretch of highway, dying after being ejected from the vehicle. The wreck would spur heartache and sadness from Ventura’s hometown in the Dominican to Kansas City, where Royals fans continued to mourn on Monday. But as a collection of Royals officials traveled to the Dominican on Monday, preparing for a funeral on Tuesday in Ventura’s home of Las Terrenas, a somewhat clear picture of the circumstances of the crash began to emerge.
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After attending the festival, where he was photographed with friends, Ventura departed and headed north toward Cibao, about 80 miles away, his agent Jose Luis Rojas told a local television station. According to Mateo Moquete, Ventura lost control of the vehicle early Sunday in the town of Juan Adrian. The force of the crash destroyed a guard rail that lined the right side of the highway.
Moquete said he believed speed may have played a factor in the wreck. The limit on that stretch of road is roughly 15 mph.
“It’s an open road,” Mateo Moquete said in a phone interview. “It’s in excellent shape. But it does take you through a mountainous area, so you have to drive with caution.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Angela Martinez, the mother of Ventura’s young daughter, said Ventura rarely sped. She said Ventura was still shaken by the October 2014 death of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras in a car crash near Puerto Plata.
Royals officials believe foggy conditions may have played a role in Ventura’s wreck, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said on Sunday. It remains unclear if alcohol played a role in the crash, though officials saw no sign of it at the scene. The results from a toxicology report on Ventura could come within three weeks. Mateo Moquete said local authorities were still investigating the crash.
At some point after the crash, Mateo Moquete said a passerby recognized Ventura’s white and blue Jeep, which he had purchased and customized after signing a five-year, $23 million contract extension with the Royals before the 2015 season. The witness called friends back in Ocoa, and a friend arrived at the scene and identified the body, Mateo Moquete said.
“It has to be an issue of speed,” Mateo Moquete said. “It has all the characteristics of that. There’s nothing obstructing the view.”
Ventura was just weeks away from reporting to spring training in Surprise, Ariz. He had spent most of the offseason in his native country, working out at the Royals Academy in Guerra, near Santa Domingo, and spending time with friends and family back home.
In the weeks before Christmas, Ventura dyed his hair a bright shade of red and posed for a photo in Piantini, an upper-class neighborhood in Santa Domingo, and then posted to his Instagram account. A few days later, he talked to Moore, promising the Royals’ general manager that he would win 18 games and record 10 complete games in 2017. In the days after the conversation, Moore relayed its contents to Royals manager Ned Yost.
“I just talked to Yordano,” Yost remembered Moore saying. “He was really fired up.”
Ventura will be buried on Tuesday. Moore, Yost and a collection of current and former Royals are set to attend. Among those expected for the services: Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jarrod Dyson and Greg Holland.
“There’s no script for this,” Moore said. “So everybody is going to manage it in a different way and deal with it in a different way.”
In some ways, before the events of Saturday night, it was a routine offseason. Ventura was back home, waiting out the days before another season, and he found ways to make the most of the time. Sometimes he’d post videos of himself working out at the Royals’ facility. Sometimes he’d venture out in the community.
On one day in late October, he visited a youth baseball team in Puerto Plata, posing for a series of photos with a collection of young Dominican boys in blue uniforms. Ventura wore a black tank top and jeans. His hair was dyed blonde. A pair of sunglasses covered his eyes. And a smile formed on his face. In the background, beyond a chain-link fence, and in front of laundry hanging on a line, was the custom white Jeep.