Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian: Royals lift a city — and a country — through their actions in wake of death of Yordano Ventura

Royals players from right, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar stood by the casket of pitcher Yordano Ventura on Tuesday. Ventura was eulogized while his casket rested over the pitcher's mound of his childhood baseball stadium in his home town, Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic.
Royals players from right, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar stood by the casket of pitcher Yordano Ventura on Tuesday. Ventura was eulogized while his casket rested over the pitcher's mound of his childhood baseball stadium in his home town, Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Royals catcher Sal Perez grew up with dirt floors in his childhood home in Venezuela, where economic chaos and the accompanying despair now necessitates that Perez — like countryman and teammate Alcides Escobar — have bodyguards when he returns.

First baseman Eric Hosmer is the son of a Miami firefighter and was playing baseball on travel teams by the time he was 11 years old. Third baseman Mike Moustakas grew up in a Los Angeles suburb with a batting cage in the front yard.

Greg Holland is from a trailer park in Marion, N.C.; Jarrod Dyson came out of the projects of McComb, Miss., surrounded by poverty and drugs.

There are few places these distinct worlds might collide, let alone merge.

But this is the sort of fusion that happens a lot in sports … and in baseball … and, really, with the Royals in particular.

Scenes from the funeral procession for Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura in the Dominican Republic

And if you wanted a glimpse into the culture that captivated the city during back-to-back World Series runs in 2014 and 2015 and heartened through the bleakness of the last few days, you could find it in this microcosm in the back of a bus on Tuesday in the Dominican Republic.

In grief, and no doubt still some state of shock over the death early Sunday of Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura in a car accident, the six of them moved quietly aboard for the approximately three-hour trip from Santo Domingo to Ventura’s home town and a series of services there.

Most had made trips together of such length or more hundreds of times before in the minor leagues, and all had been together in these scenarios many more times in the major leagues.

But starting with the rural Dominican custom of bereavement visitation within the home, in this case the one Ventura had built in the last few years, what lay ahead would be unlike anything any of them had seen or heard or felt before — particularly not with each other.

They needed this for closure, though, if that word ever really applies, and to show their appreciation to Ventura’s family.

Yordano Ventura in his own words: 'Proud to be on Kansas City's team'

And, as it happened, to both absorb and provide a sense of tranquility that many in the organization would come to feel by day’s end.

Even if that peace might prove to be fleeting, there was doubtless an unforgettable, irreplaceable and everlasting sensation in what they were a meaningful part of Tuesday — a feeling that made it irrelevant that Dyson and Holland no longer are with the team.

As a group, they peered into Ventura’s casket and at his face one last time, whether lingering for minutes like Perez and Escobar did or turning away weeping like Dyson into the comforting arm of general manager Dayton Moore.

They would help serve as pallbearers, and they would be ambassadors — hugging Ventura’s family members in their raw pain and managing to smile and pose for pictures with local children both in awe of them and in mourning of Ventura.

Hours later, they would leave touched deeply — and leaving many just as touched.

“It’s just really neat to see our guys grow as men,” Moore said later. “It’s very easy to shield yourself from these types of events, because people don’t want to deal with the emotion of grief.”

Moore meant that well beyond just the players and members of the organization who were here.

He specifically cited the moving scene Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, where Danny Duffy and Christian Colon and Ian Kennedy came to offer condolences to fans and feel their emotional embraces.

All were just as accessible among Dominicans on Tuesday, when front office personnel and coaches from Moore to president Dan Glass and manager Ned Yost walked in sweltering heat for well over a mile virtually arm in arm with the thousands of locals crammed into the streets.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez speaks at Yordano Ventura's funeral

None of this happens just anywhere — or just happens.

And that’s something to truly cherish about an organization that is remarkably enmeshed and in tune with its community and puts a premium on some values we can all learn from.

That’s been evident for years, and it was on vivid display as the franchise rose out of the mire to push the 2014 World Series to Game 7 and go on to win it all in 2015.

The thrill was amplified by the way it was shared with fans, whether it was in players calling for followers to meet at a bar to celebrate or being visible and accessible in the community or Perez taking a selfie from the stage at Union Station with tens of thousands of fans in the background.

On Tuesday, you could see another side to this among the traveling party that also included former Royal Chris Getz.

As Moustakas stood in the bus behind Perez, he spoke of the only other time he’d been to the Dominican:

It was either in 2009 or 2010, he recalled, as he still was coming of age in the minor leagues.

Along with other a few other up-and-coming players, the organization sent him there for 10 days in the winter.

Ostensibly, it was to train. But that wasn’t the real reason, nor is it why the Royals still try to do that with American prospects.

It was so they could learn something about from where so many of their present and future teammates came.

Yordano Ventura's funeral procession in the Dominican Republic

It was to see what it was like to be the minority when it came to the language, and to be made cognizant of all the privileges and comforts they had known that their future brothers had not.

The Royals have made a major investment in Latin America since Moore took over in 2006, and that can be seen on a roster brimming with the benefits of that.

But the organization that has its Latin American academy near Santo Domingo also has sought to be sensitive and appreciative of its endeavors here.

That mind-set was reflected here these last days, and you can know that under Moore’s leadership that respect and even love will be extended in the months and years to come — both in terms of how it treats the people of this country and honors Ventura.

The healing from this horrific moment, of course, is only beginning, and none of it will come as simply as Perez rubbing his hand on Ventura’s closed casket on Tuesday.

Through this misery, though, we also could see something soothing and important in what this franchise represents — something that further illustrates why Royals fans can take pride in what they stand behind.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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