The year 2017 in Kansas City sports will be remembered more for farewells and arrivals than any championship won.
There were a few title celebrations, notably Kansas’ 13th straight Big 12 men’s basketball championship and Sporting Kansas City’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory.
But the most unforgettable moment of 2017 in the Kansas City sports world occurred some three weeks into the year when Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura lost control of his car and died in single-vehicle crash in his native Dominican Republic.
Shock reverberated throughout baseball and left the Royals organization, its fan base and the Kansas City community heartbroken. A young, emotional, talented athlete with a right arm charged with promise had died much too soon at age 25.
Ventura’s electric performance in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series and contributions to the 2015 World Series champions lead a highlights package of a player whose life was cut tragically short.
Perhaps the loss of Ventura contributed to the Royals’ slow start. They ended April on a nine-game losing streak but rallied in June and July to climb over .500 and into the Central Division race, only to fall back and finish with their first losing record (80-82) since 2012 — and with the prospect of losing some of the biggest cogs from their championship years to free agency.
First baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain are free agents, and before spring training begins in February, the Royals could be down to a handful of players who helped capture the 2015 World Series.
Other personnel moves helped write the story of 2017, none more so than the Chiefs’ abrupt firing of general manager John Dorsey in June. The news hit some 45 minutes after the team announced a contract extension for head coach Andy Reid.
Two months earlier, Dorsey, who had arrived in KC with Reid in 2013, had overseen a draft in which the Chiefs had selected a quarterback in the first round — Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes — for the first time since they drafted Todd Blackledge in Round 1 in 1983. Brett Veach, who had worked with Reid in Philadelphia, was elevated to the Chiefs’ general manager position, and earlier this month Dorsey was hired as the Cleveland Browns’ GM.
Drama followed the Chiefs into the season, which started gloriously with victories at defending Super Bowl champion New England and in their home opener against the Eagles.
The Chiefs started 5-0, but Super Bowl dreams were dashed when they lost six of their next seven, a stretch that included a one-game suspension for star cornerback Marcus Peters after he threw a penalty flag into the stands, walked off the field, then returned without socks in a game at the New York Jets.
The Chiefs turned their season around with triumphs over AFC West rivals Oakland and the Los Angeles Chargers. With a win over the Miami Dolphins last weekend, they clinched a second straight division title for the first time in club history. Now, the aim is to avoid a playoff loss as painful as the division-round failure against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium last January.
In college sports, the biggest fortune shift belonged to Missouri basketball, which ended the 2016-17 season with 24 losses and began the 2017-18 season with a new coach — Cuonzo Martin replaced Kim Anderson — and a top-five recruiting class led by Michael Porter, Jr.
Porter was returning home. He grew up in Columbia and signed at MU when his father, out of a job at Washington, relocated to Missouri. The family’s next in line, Jontay Porter, also joined the Tigers this fall.
The Porter excitement reached a crescendo when Mizzou met Kansas on the hardwood for the first time since the Tigers left the Big 12. An exhibition game that served as a fund-raiser for hurricane relief brought the programs together before a full (and split) house at Sprint Center in October.
So far, Michael Porter Jr.’s college season has lasted all of two minutes. He had surgery on his back and it was said he would likely miss the rest of the season while spending 3-4 months to recover.
Even without the player who could become a top-five NBA Draft selection in 2018 if that’s the path Porter chooses, Missouri is off to its most promising start in five years as SEC play begins next week.
Top Sports Stories of 2017
As we bid goodbye to 2017, here are the stories that shaped Kansas City’s year in sports as determined and ranked by The Star’s sports staff and compiled by Star sports editor Jeff Rosen.
Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura dies in a Jan. 22 car wreck in his native Dominican Republic, leaving behind a legion of grief-stricken friends, teammates, family and fans.
The Chiefs fail in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs again, losing 18-16 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium, leaving at two the number of home playoff victories in franchise history.
GM John Dorsey trades up as the Chiefs finally draft a quarterback, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, in the first round for the first time since taking Todd Blackledge in 1983. Dorsey is later abruptly fired and replaced by young Andy Reid confidante Brett Veach.
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters becomes a lightning rod for anthem protests over racial injustice and is suspended one game by Andy Reid for unrelated antics during the team’s loss at the New York Jets. The Chiefs, who opened the season 5-0, had just lost for the sixth time in seven games. But a three-game winning streak has given them a conseuctive AFC West title for the first time in franchise history, and they’ll open the playoffs at home on Jan. 6 or 7.
The Royals fall short of the playoffs in their first losing season since 2002, Mike Moustakas breaks Steve Balboni’s longstanding franchise record for most homers in a season, and free agents-to-be Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain play their presumed farewell game at Kauffman Stadium.
Missouri fires men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson, hires Cuonzo Martin and gets a gigantic commitment from elite Columbia native Michael Porter Jr., who’s heralded as a future NBA star. But fans only caught a glimpse. Porter Jr. plays two minutes in the opener before undergoing back surgery, and is possibly lost for the year.
Kansas and Mizzou put their Border War standoff on hold for a charity men’s basketball game benefitting hurricane relief before a packed and split house at Sprint Center.
Kansas guard Frank Mason is named a consensus college basketball player of the year, Bill Self is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and KU wins its 13th straight Big 12 title. But scandals involving Josh Jackson, Lagerald Vick and Carlton Bragg rock the program, and the Jayhawks are shocked by Oregon 74-60 in the Elite Eight at the Sprint Center.
Power Five college football is a mixed bag, but plenty interesting, around the Kansas City area: the Bill Snyder saga at Kansas State (Cats’ coach battles throat cancer, leads late-season rally); Mizzou’s turnaround from 1-5 to 7-5 and a bowl berth; and more wretched losing in Lawrence and beyond as the Jayhawks stretch their road losing streak to a ghastly 46 games amid plans for a stadium rennovation.
Sporting KC wins the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, trades star striker Dom Dwyer and stumbles to a disappointing finish before starting a major roster rebuild in December. FCKC, meanwhile, the city’s women’s pro soccer team, ceases operations altogether in November.
AND A FEW HONORABLE MENTIONS...
The calendar year 2017 brought joy and sadness on the high school scene, with Staley’s dramatic Missouri Class 5 football championship and Blue Valley North’s first state football title, and the deaths of Blue Valley coach Eric Driskell and West Platte’s Nathan Danneman.
Kansas City becomes championship central, with the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January and the NCAA Volleyball Championship in December, along with a host of other events. The city is now aiming to land other big events, such as the NFL Draft and World Cup.
Northwest Missouri State becomes the first Division II school to follow an NCAA football championship with a title in men’s basketball when the Bearcats bring home the trophy in March.