After the Royals clinched the American League pennant in 2015, Yordano Ventura did something in the clubhouse that amazed fans: He nonchalantly opened a beer bottle with his teeth.
Danny Duffy’s bear suit is the stuff of legends when it comes to Royals clubhouse celebrations, but Ventura’s cap-removal is vastly underrated. It was fun and impressive.
It showed a side of Ventura, who died nine months ago in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, that we didn’t often see. Fans knew Ventura possessed a phenomenal fastball and was temperamental at times on the mound, but his playful side wasn’t as well known.
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However, former Royals pitcher Edinson Vólquez shared some private moments with Ventura in a wonderful essay for The Players’ Tribune that was released Monday. It is simply titled “Yordano.”
Vólquez opened the essay with a reference to his no-hitter for the Marlins on what would have been Ventura’s 26th birthday this past June.
“A lot of people over this summer — they ask me what Yordano would say, if he still alive, after I throw my no-hitter on his birthday in June,” Vólquez wrote. “And I think, because it’s this sad story, you know, I think maybe they expecting that I tell them something very sad. Like they think Yordano would have called me up, and he give me one of these big emotional quotes from the heart. But those people — they didn’t know Yordano.
“Here’s what he would have texted me later that night: It’s about time!
“That was the Yordano I knew, the guy I loved.”
In addition to writing about Ventura’s sense of humor, Vólquez shared his thoughts on being a mentor, and interspersed the essay with what was happening during his no-hitter.
Vólquez believes the Royals signed him before the 2015 season in part to be an influence on Ventura. Vólquez felt the need to do that as well.
“You come from the DR, and you been poor your whole life, and now it’s $5 million in your bank account?” Vólquez wrote. “Well, of course, that’s a blessing. But also that can do things to you. You think you might have more friends now, with your money — but the truth is, you lose friends. It’s hard to know who to trust. And it’s these bad people, man … they love to hang around with young athletes, who grew up poor and are new to their money, and take advantage of them.
“And it’s tough, because as a baseball player, you’re already living these two lives: on the field, and off the field. But then as a young Dominican player, you also have even another two lives to worry about: You have your life in the States, and then your life back home. And I’m telling you, man, it’s just hard for these kids. You back in the DR, now, in the offseason, with all this fame — and now there aren’t all these rules, like in the States, and you got no team obligations, and you the only one with money … it can mess you up, you know what I’m saying? No matter how good of a person you are. And Yordano, man, he’s one of the best people you’ll ever meet. But he’s human, man. He was human.
“And so I knew that it’s my job to mentor him.”
Vólquez shared that he thought Ventura was making strides in all aspects of his life during the offseason following the 2016 season.
That’s why Vólquez simply couldn’t believe that Ventura had died.
“You hear the news, and it’s like, Nah man — he grew. He grew. Yordano, he growing up now,” Vólquez wrote. “He about to be one of the best pitchers in baseball next season. That’s — it’s just, that’s what’s gonna happen. So let’s talk about the next thing. Because Yordano ain’t dead. That don’t make sense.”
The essay ends with Vólquez on the mound in the ninth inning as he closed out the no-hitter. Ventura was there with him that day in Miami.
“And man it was so loud after that last out. The fans, my teammates, the stadium — it’s like, ‘Vólquez! Vólquez! Vólquez!’ All I hear though, in my head, is Yordano. I hear him like he’s right beside me, see him like he’s right on the mound, right in the spot where I scribbled his name,” Vólquez wrote.
“He’s looking at me like he’s up to no good. Got this big-ass smirk.
“And then he says it. He says it calmly, as if it ain’t nothing — just like I imagined: ‘It’s about time!’ He says. ‘It’s about time, Edinson. About time you get a no-no. What were you waiting for?’
“But then he stops smirking. And for a moment … maybe not even more than a few seconds … he starts smiling. For a moment, even Yordano, the joker — he can’t make a joke. He’s too happy for me.
“ ‘I’m proud of you, Big Brother,’ he says.
“He gives me a hug — this long, heavy hug. It’s like he’s really hugging me, like he’s really there.
“ ‘Happy birthday,’ I tell him. ‘You 26 now.’ And now I’m smiling, too. ‘You an old man.’ ”
There is much more in the essay and you can read it here.