Yordano Ventura, an excitable pitcher with an electric fastball who helped the Kansas City Royals to their first World Series championship in 30 years, died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic early Sunday. He was 25.
The Royals nicknamed him "Ace" not as a label but as a reference to the movie "Ace Ventura," yet they always anticipated he would harness a fastball that reached 100 mph and blossom into an elite pitcher. Instead, they were in mourning Sunday.
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer posted a picture of him with Ventura on Instagram and wrote, "ACE I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say. I love you ACE."
Royals pitcher Danny Duffy and infielder Christian Colon visited Kauffman Stadium and hugged fans there to remember Ventura.
"He's always had a zest for life, an innocence about the game, a freshness, a fearlessness," Royals General Manager Dayton Moore said on a conference call.
"And he's been really the same guy from day one, as far as his character traits and what made him special. He's just a really passionate human. He loved to compete. He no doubt challenged us. But that made us better.
"No one could ever doubt how much he cared about his teammates. How much he cared about the fans. And how much he loved to compete and to pitch."
Dominican authorities told Moore that Ventura was driving in heavy fog at the time of the crash and was not wearing a seat belt but that there was no immediate indication alcohol played a role, according to the Kansas City Star.
Ventura, 25, had a 38-31 record and 3.89 earned-run average in four years in Kansas City. He started nine postseason games before he turned 25, including seven scoreless innings in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, forcing the Game 7 best remembered for the five scoreless innings thrown in relief by San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
Dodgers pitcher Brock Stewart, noting that Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez died in September at 24, said on Twitter: "First Jose, now Yordano... two of my favorite pitchers to watch compete are gone. Very sad how fragile life can be."
Ventura was not the kind of Dominican prodigy that spurs a bidding war among major league teams and commands a signing bonus in the millions. He could throw exceptionally hard, but he weighed 140 pounds and stood not even six feet, and the Royals signed him for $27,000.
In 2014, his first full season in the major leagues, he was an unlikely pillar of the Kansas City rotation, pitching in as the Royals reached the World Series for the first time in 29 years. The next spring, at age 23, the Royals signed him to a five-year, $23.5-million contract.
"Sometimes people pitch angry," Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson said.
That was far from the only incident with Ventura. He was suspended eight games last season for throwing at Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles.
Angels pitcher Huston Street expressed condolences via Twitter.
The Royals worked to channel Ventura's emotion into his pitching, and he could express his emotions in good and profound ways as well.
The day after the Royals lost Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura played softball with children in Kansas City.
In what turned out to be his last game, he paid tribute on his cap to two young major leaguers gone long before their time: Fernandez of the Miami Marlins and Dominican countryman Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Dominican authorities also confirmed that former major league third baseman Andy Marte died in a separate car accident. Marte, once considered one of the game's elite prospects, batted .218 in seven major league seasons, mostly for the Cleveland Indians. He hit .362 for the Angels' triple-A Salt Lake team in 2013.
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9:45 a.m.: This article has been updated with staff reporting, additional details and quotes.