'Great kid with a big heart. We lost a brother.'

Royals right-hander dies in car accident in Dominican Republic

January 22nd, 2017

KANSAS CITY -- , a rising star right-hander with the Royals, died early Sunday in a car accident in the Dominican Republic at the age of 25. 

"Everybody in our organization is hurting right now," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a conference call. "We were truly blessed to have been a part of his life. He will always be a special part of our organization."

"We've been group-texting all morning, trying to make sense of it," left fielder Alex Gordon told MLB.com by phone. "He was a great kid with a big heart. It's just a very hard day for all of us. We lost a brother."

Posnanski: Ventura's growth miraculous to see

The Royals indicated they still were collecting details, but there were reports out of the Dominican that the crash took place on a highway in Rancho Arriba, a town in the province of San Jose de Ocoa. Ventura's hometown is in Las Terrenas, where the funeral services are expected to take place.

:: Yordano Ventura, 1991-2017 | Andy Marte, 1983-2017 ::

Moore said Royals assistant general manager Rene Francisco, who is in charge of international operations, was en route to the Dominican to be with Ventura's family.

"From what I've been told, speed was not a factor," Moore said. "It was just a mountainous area with heavy fog. It's obvious from the pictures that he did not have a seat belt on. No one has been able to confirm or deny alcohol was a factor, and I've asked repeatedly."

According to Moore, toxicology reports won't be available for 21 days. 

Ventura is survived by his wife, Maria del Pilar Sangiovanni, whom he married prior to last season.

In a separate incident, former Major League infielder Andy Marte, who played parts of seven seasons with the Indians, Braves and D-backs, died in a car crash Sunday. He was 33. In an odd twist of fate, Marte's final game in the Majors was against Ventura and the Royals on Aug. 6, 2014.

"Today is a very sad day for our entire game and particularly for the many loyal fans in the Dominican Republic, the home of both Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte," said Commissioner Rob Manfred. 

"Yordano was a key figure in the Royals' recent success. His electric talent on the mound helped lead the Royals to two American League pennants and the 2015 World Championship. Andy was a respected member of six organizations who played seven Major League seasons, including for the Cleveland Indians from 2006-10. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to the families, teammates, friends and fans of both players."

• Baseball world mourns Ventura, Marte

One of Moore's first calls on Sunday was to Marlins team president Mike Hill, who had to cope with the death of ace pitcher Jose Fernandez in September.

"The Marlins handled that with such grace and heart," Moore said. "I was just hoping to find out how to process this. There's no playbook for this. No script."

Moore said he last spoke to Ventura right before Christmas, "He told me he was going to win 18 games, 10 of them complete games."

Royals manager Ned Yost told MLB.com he will accompany Moore to the Dominican tomorrow to be with Ventura's family.

"It just hasn't sunk in yet," Yost said. "Not sure when it will."

Ventura's death also comes less than three years after the death of his close friend Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals' outfielder who also died in a car accident in the Dominican on Oct. 26, 2014. Ventura paid tribute to his friend three days later in Game 6 of the World Series by writing Taveras' initials "O.T." and "#18" on his cap as Ventura pitched seven scoreless innings in a must-win, which the Royals did, 10-0, over the Giants.

It likely was the signature win for Ventura, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and who made his Major League debut in September 2013. He was 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA in 94 games, and he was poised to be the Royals' No. 2 starter in 2017.

By noon on Sunday, the flags at Kauffman Stadium were lowered to half-mast. And memorial flowers began to accumulate outside the front doors. Royals pitcher Danny Duffy and infielder Christian Colon came to the stadium to help console fans.

Fellow rotation mate Duffy took the news hard, saying, "I don't want to believe it. Senseless. I loved him. We gotta be strong for each other and his family."

• Castrovince: Ventura, Marte leave us way too soon

News of Ventura's death shook his other teammates throughout Sunday. Gordon recalled the feeling of loss when Taveras and Fernandez died.

"It just shows you never know what the world is going to bring you," Gordon said. "But it never really hits you until it hits close to home. We lost someone close to us."

Duffy told MLB.com by phone, "I can't believe it. I don't want to believe it. It's senseless. We got to be strong right now for each other and for his family."

Duffy and his teammates remembered Ventura for his playful and mischievous personality inside the clubhouse. 

"I can't even believe I won't be able to mess around with him in the clubhouse again," Duffy said, his voice trembling. "He was so fun to be around. I loved him."

On the field, though, Ventura was a fierce competitor with a 100-mph fastball and a burning desire to succeed.

"The talent was incredible," Duffy said. "And the will to win."

It was that fire that often got Ventura in trouble through brushback pitches that led to benches-clearing incidents, suspensions and fines. The Royals, though, always stood by their young pitcher.

"That's just who he was," Gordon said. "He had that fiery personality, and sometimes, it got the best of him. But that was something he needed to be successful. We had his back."

Former Royals right-hander Edinson Volquez lockered next to Ventura the past two seasons, which was by design as the Royals hoped Volquez would mentor Ventura.

Volquez said toward the end of the 2016 season of Ventura's competitiveness, "You don't want to take that energy away from him. He's got to have that passion."

One by one, Ventura's teammates took to Twitter to mourn and express their sentiments.

Colon was especially close to Ventura and offered a message in a tweet that began, "How can I even begin to explain how much I cared about you? You were like a little brother to me."

Ventura often thanked the Royals for taking a chance on him when he was just 17. And he was especially grateful after he signed a five-year, $23 million contract extension in 2015.

Asked what he planned to do with the money at the time, Ventura smiled and said, "Take care of my family."

The mission now for the Royals organization is to be strong going forward.

"I'm always going to remember our talks, not just about baseball but about life," pitching coach Dave Eiland told MLB.com. "People just saw the blowups on the mound, but they never saw the great kid inside that he was. That wasn't who he was on the mound. He was a great kid, a fun-loving kid.

"This is all so hard to take. It's so fresh. But my feeling right now is that it's never going to be the same. It's just not going to feel the same. But we have to somehow carry on. We have to fight to carry on. That's what he would have done."