After deadly weekend, more questions on the safety of roads in the Dominican Republic

A photo of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Oscar Taveras stands on top of the coffin containing his body during his funeral in Sosua, Dominican Republicon Oct. 28, 2014.
A photo of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Oscar Taveras stands on top of the coffin containing his body during his funeral in Sosua, Dominican Republicon Oct. 28, 2014. AP

He wrote the message in white, five letters, two numbers, an expression to the world on a cool October night in Kansas City.

In the hours before Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Yordano Ventura sought to pay tribute to his friend, Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals outfielder who had died days earlier in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. So he put the memorial on the front of his blue cap — “RIP O.T. #18” — and then went out and pitched the best game of his life, seven scoreless innings in a 10-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants.

On that day in 2014, the performance was both heartbreaking and inspiring. On Sunday, it turned haunting after Ventura met a similar fate, dying in a car crash on a highway in his native Dominican Republic.

The Kansas City Star visited Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in his home country, the Dominican Republic, in January 2015.

The news of Ventura’s death rekindled the same sadness felt more than two years ago. It also sparked the same questions about the dangers of the roads in the Dominican Republic, the island country home to so many of the world’s best baseball players. On the same weekend that Ventura’s career ended too soon, the baseball world also mourned the death of Andy Marte, a former major-leaguer who died at age 33 in a separate crash in the Dominican.

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The issue is never far from the minds of baseball executives, the fears real and constant. On Sunday, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said he worries about the dangers “every day.”

“We’re always (cautioning our players),” Moore said. “And I’m more intentional about it, to the point where it’s probably maybe even goes in one ear and out the other. But we’re constantly saying things.”

The roads in the Dominican Republic have long been among the most deadly in the world. In 2013, the World Health Organization released a report on road safety and vehicle-related deaths. The Dominican Republic ranked first in per capita fatalities with 41.7 deaths per year per 100,000 people. When stretched out over 70 years, a study in the Washington Post found that, over a lifetime, a Dominican person’s odds of dying in a car crash are one in 480.

The factors that led to the crash that killed Ventura remain somewhat unclear. There was no sign of alcohol at the scene, according to Moore, who was briefed on the incident. But officials will not have the results of a full toxicology report for close to three weeks. Moore told The Star that Ventura was driving on a mountainous stretch of highway and that foggy conditions may have played a role. He was also not wearing his seatbelt, which caused him to be ejected after he lost control of his customized white Jeep.

Dayton Moore on Yordano Ventura: 'We’re gonna miss him' 

The road conditions in the Dominican, on the whole, do not measure up to those in the United States. But in a 2014 report after Taveras’ death, the Economist magazine noted that in a recent Global Competitiveness Report in the World Economic Forum, “Dominican road quality actually ranked well above average, ahead of countries like Italy and Norway.”

The issue, experts say, stems as much from cultural factors as economic ones. In the Dominican, both seat-belt and drunk-driving laws can be insufficient. In 2014, Taveras was reportedly found to be legally drunk at the time of his crash, which also killed his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo.

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As a result, the Royals and other major-league teams stress education and awareness on the issue. But in the aftermath of Sunday’s two tragedies, baseball faced this reality: Even Ventura, a man who knew the pain of losing a friend in a car crash, could not escape the same fate.

“You see them as tremendously talented athletes,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Nothing could ever happen to them because they’re so strong, they’re so young. But then you see this.”