Vahe Gregorian

Edinson Volquez on former Royals teammate Yordano Ventura: ‘I still think about him all the time’

In a certain sense, a brotherhood was forged between Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura before they even knew each other.

It was steeped in their common experience as natives of the Dominican Republic, where each grew up with meager means in loving families.

Volquez was a self-described “tornado” as a child, Ventura a perpetual motion machine.

Each also became known as “Pedrito,” Little Pedro, a nod to their promise in the game and aspirations to be like pitcher Pedro Martinez, just the second Dominican to ascend to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ventura was 7 years old when he provided Martinez’s name as his idol for images to go with a Bible verse on a plaque; Volquez’s first glove was a Martinez model, and the first thing he saw in his bedroom every morning was a giant poster of Martinez — whose “every movement, every motion” he tried to emulate.

Volquez was 17 or 18 when he was signed by the Texas Rangers for $27,000 in 2001 and made his minor-league debut about 18 months later; Ventura was 17 when he was signed by the Royals for $28,000 in 2008 and made his minor-league debut 18 months later.

All of this might have been enough for Volquez to feel an instant kinship to Ventura when they became Royals teammates in 2015.

But there was another essential element already in place … and much more to come as they helped the Royals win the World Series.

Eight years the elder of Ventura, Volquez saw in him the same sorts of passion and volatility he had to learn to harness in his early days with the Rangers.

All of which helps explain why Volquez relished having a locker next to Ventura for the two seasons he was with the Royals, why he loved mentoring Ventura and joking with him — and why he felt it was his duty to counsel and even chastise him for the temperamental antics that underscored Ventura’s early 2015 season.

As if speaking to a younger version of himself, Volquez remembers telling Ventura, “‘Why do you have to be angry? Why do you have to be mad?’”

So these are the intense depths to which Volquez means it when he calls Ventura his “little brother.”

And maybe that helps account a little bit for how he came to pitch a no-hitter for the Miami Marlins on June 3 — which would have been the 26th birthday of Ventura, who died in a car accident in puzzling circumstances on a twisting mountain road in the Dominican in the early hours of Jan. 22.

Depending on your belief system, of course, you might see the remarkable moment as more coincidence than fate, more a matter of chance than some cosmic indulgence or divine invention.

But no matter how you process it, the result was the first no-hitter of Volquez’s life … on a day that began with him posting a sweet birthday wish to Ventura on Instagram … during a season in which Volquez began 0-7 for his seventh team … and in a game that started with a nasty ankle injury on the first play of the game.

No matter how you reconcile it, Volquez and Ventura are tethered together in a new way now by that amazing day — one that brought consolation and even joy to many still mourning the loss of Ventura.

Volquez could feel that in the messages of congratulations he received from his former Royals teammates, in phone calls from Royals general manager Dayton Moore and assistant GM Rene Francisco (who signed Ventura) and from thousands of Royals fans who celebrated on social media.

But he felt it in another way, too.

“I was pretty sure he was with me that day,” Volquez said in a phone interview with The Star.

Even after he signed with the Marlins in December, Volquez was in frequent contact with Ventura.

Each was spending his offseason in the Dominican Republic. They spoke often on the phone and last saw each other a few weeks before Ventura’s accident at Carlos Santana’s celebrity softball game.

“We hit back-to-back homers that day,” Volquez said, laughing about the light moment that he has captured in video on his phone. “Then we spent the whole day together.”

The weeks to come were particularly painful for Volquez, whose 25-year-old brother, Brandy, was stabbed to death in Santo Domingo in mid-January.

As he was contending with that, Ventura was scheduled to come visit him on Jan. 20.

“He was supposed to go to my house,” Volquez said. “But he never showed up.”

Less than two days later, around 7 a.m.. on Jan. 22, Volquez got the news by text message that Ventura had died.

His first reaction was denial, telling himself that it just didn’t happen.

“It was hard to swallow,” he said. “I still can’t believe it.”

He was at the funeral two days later in Las Terrenas, joining with the Royals entourage and other former Royals, including Johnny Cueto, who also is from the Dominican.

“His mom started calling my name and Cueto’s name,” Volquez said. “It was a sad moment for me. It was really hard.”

Kansas City Royals say goodbye to their 'little brother,' Yordano Ventura

None of Volquez’s difficult early season would have portended what was ahead.

He was 1-7 entering the game with visiting Arizona on June 3, when the first thing he did after he woke up was post the picture with Ventura with these words:

“Miss you broth HBD to Ace Ventura one love.”

He wasn’t thinking no-hitter at that point.

Then some funny things happened.

When he spoke with a friend that morning, the friend suggested he would throw a no-hitter. Volquez enjoyed the encouragement but thought little of what it might mean.

Then when he arrived at the stadium, pitching coach Juan Nieves looked at him and said, “You’re going to throw a no-hitter today.”

“It was something crazy,” Volquez said.

So the started believing it.

At least right up until when the first batter, Rey Fuentes, collided with him at first base.

Volquez laughingly would say later he thought he broke his ankle, but it’s unclear how much he was actually joking.

Between the sheer hurt and concerns he’d stiffen up, Volquez said he didn’t sit the entire game.

Even so, the ankle was tightening and inflicting so much pain that after the fourth inning — when Dee Gordon kept the no-hitter viable with a great defensive play — Volquez told the trainer, “I’ve got to stop pitching.”

He was persuaded to go one more inning, though. And, somehow, after the fifth inning, the ankle started feeling better.

“It was something like you can’t describe,” he said.

By then, he was conscious of the no-hitter, if not focused on it.

That changed as of the seventh.

“‘Now, you’ve got to do it; you’ve got to go for it,’” he thought, telling himself it was a special day for not just him but the Ventura family.

He had come through in even more moving circumstances, of course, delivering for the Royals in Game 5 of the World Series just days after attending his father’s funeral.

This was different, Volquez said. He didn’t feel the sensations he had in New York that night, when he spoke of an inexplicable energy coming from the dirt and the grass and knew it to be emanating from his father.

Still, he felt accompanied on this journey by Ventura, whom Volquez like many others believed was primed for the season of his life.

When he struck out the side in the ninth inning, his mind also flashed to the man he theoretically was replacing for the Marlins, Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident in September and to whom he also dedicated the win.

But his emotions particularly gravitated to the former teammate he will always see as a little brother, entwined forever by their parallel pasts, their time together … and a twist that couldn’t have been scripted.

“I still think about him,” he said, “all the time.” 

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

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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