SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — The locker was empty. A banner over the clubhouse door said: “Ace 30.”
Back on the field for the first time this year, the Kansas City Royals couldn’t help but think of Yordano Ventura, their 25-year-old teammate who died in a car crash on Jan. 22 in his native Dominican Republic.
“He’s always on your mind,” manager Ned Yost said Tuesday as Kansas City started spring training workouts. “I still catch myself thinking about him being in our rotation, for a second there. It just takes time to work through that, and we’ll work through it as a group.”
Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008 and came up to the major league team in 2013. He helped the Royals win the 2014 AL pennant and 2015 World Series title.
“I think it’s becoming real,” Royals pitcher Danny Duffy said, recalling his special handshake with Ventura. “But that’s the reality of it; we’re not going to see him again. It’s definitely tough. We’re going to have a year that all of us will not soon forget. We’re looking forward to spending time with each other.”
Yost noted “it crushed all of us” when Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident last September. Four months later, tragedy struck the Royals.
“He’s going to be deeply missed,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “It’s tough to deal with. The only thing we can do is stay together as a family, play in his memory and keep remembering him all the time. He’s one of our brothers. Not seeing him is going to be the toughest thing.”
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout contacted Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer after learning of Ventura’s death. Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado got in touch with Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
“Guys like Trout and Manny that had little incidents with Yordano on the field, but both of those guys reached out and make sure that we were alright and his family is alright,” Hosmer said.
Their reactions did not surprise Yost.
“They’re pros, they’re All-Stars,” Yost said. “That’s why they are great players. It’s because they care. If you don’t care about each other as a group, it doesn’t make any sense. Even though you’re on different teams you’re part of this brotherhood called MLB.”
Jason Hamel will be a rotation candidate along with Travis Wood, who is in the process of finalizing a $12 million, two-year contract. Yost said left-hander Matt Strahm will remain in the bullpen but could be a future starter.
But for now, and likely for a long time, the focus was on the player who was not here.
“It’s not something we’re going to get over,” Hosmer said. “It’s not something we’re going to forget.”