Kansas City Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura, known for his hard fastball and explosive competitiveness, was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic early Sunday, the latest in a disturbing string of talented, young Latino ballplayers who have died in accidents involving motorized vehicles.
The death of Ventura, a 25-year-old rising star who was a part of two pennant-winning rotations in Kansas City and who was named to two All-Star Futures Games, was confirmed by police in the Dominican Republic and by the Royals just before noon Sunday. According to local media reports, he was the only passenger in the car.
“Our prayers right now are with Yordano’s family as we mourn this young man’s passing,” Royals General Manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. “He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano.”
Ventura’s death Sunday came just hours after former Cleveland Indians infielder Andy Marte, 33, died in a separate car accident, also in the Dominican Republic. Marte, formerly considered one of the top prospects in baseball as an Atlanta Braves minor-leaguer, had played the past two seasons in Korea.
Ventura, small for a starting pitcher at 6-feet and 195 pounds, was 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA over three-plus seasons with the Royals, and 1-2 with a 4.66 ERA in 10 postseason appearances, including nine starts. But he was perhaps just as well known for his fiery personality on the mound and his several benches-clearing incidents involving superstars Manny Machado and Mike Trout, among others.
Ventura was a close friend of Oscar Taveras, the former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who was killed, along with his girlfriend, in a car crash in the Dominican Republic in 2014 at the age of 22. Days later, in what was probably the best performance of his career, an emotional Ventura — wearing a hat inscribed with “RIP O.T. #18” — threw seven shutout innings against the San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, a start he dedicated to Tavares.
Four months ago, Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, a two-time all-star and the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, was killed at the age of 24 in a boating accident off Miami Beach.
Ventura was also friends with Fernandez, and after the latter’s death in September, Ventura posted a photo of Fernandez’s funeral on Instagram, along with the words, “Time is the most valuable treasure that we have.”
Investigators later determined both Taveras and Fernandez were intoxicated at the time of their accidents, although it was never determined whether Fernandez was driving the boat at the time of his accident. There was no sign of alcohol at the scene of Ventura’s crash, according to a report from the Kansas City Star, but local officials did say Ventura wasn’t wearing his seat belt. A toxicology report won’t be available for several weeks.
The Dominican Republic consistently ranks among the deadliest countries for motor-vehicle crashes in data compiled by the World Health Organization. In 2015, it was ranked 15th-highest in the world, and first in the Americas, with an average annual rate of 29.3 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
In 2013, after the country ranked as the deadliest country in the world for motor-vehicle crashes, at 41.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, The Washington Post calculated the chances of a Dominican Republic citizen dying in an auto accident by age 70 at 1 in 480.