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Only the good die young

While the majority of the pro sports world was eagerly anticipating the start of Sunday’s AFC and NFC championship games, some were mourning the loss of two professional athletes.

Upon arriving to work on Sunday (yes, unfortunately I have to toil on the Sabbath), I learned of the deaths of two professional baseball players. Yordano Ventura, a starting pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, and former Major League infielder Andy Marte both lost their lives in separate auto accidents earlier Sunday in the Dominican Republic.

While details were scarce Sunday afternoon after the crash that claimed Ventura’s life, it appears that Marte was killed when the Mercedes Benz he was driving hit a house along a road about 95 miles north of Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital.

It was not known if Ventura was operating a vehicle or was a passenger in the crash in which he died. That accident, according to Dominican Republic authorities, occurred approximately 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo. 

Marte broke into the big leagues in 2000, signing with my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. He was projected as a top level player (first base and third base), but never lived up to his potential. He last played in the majors with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014. He also spent some time with the Cleveland Indians.

At the time of his death, Marte was playing winter league baseball in the Dominican Republic.

While I knew little of what happened with Marte after he left the Braves, I remember well when Ventura burst upon the Major League Baseball scene in 2014 with the Kansas City Royals.

Flashing a 100-miles-per-hour fastball, Ventura became an instant success among loyal baseball fans. Those fans also liked the way he didn’t back down from hitters, constantly challenging them inside with that triple-digit “heater.” That led to a few fisticuffs when batters would charge the mound after being plunked by one of his fastballs. And Ventura didn’t back down then either. I believed he thrived off those confrontations.

His nickname was “Ace” and he lived up to that lofty status.

His best season stat wise was in 2014, his first full year in the big leagues, where he started 30 games and nearly won half of them (14). He fanned 159 batters that year and sported a 3.2 ERA. However, Kansas City, playing in its first World Series that year since 1985, fell in seven games to the San Francisco Giants.

He followed that up by winning 13 games with 156 strikeouts and a 4.08 ERA in 2015. That was the year where the Royals climbed back to the top of the baseball mountain by winning the World Series, topping the New York Mets in five games.

Kansas City’s front office wasted little time in keeping their budding, 25-year-old superstar rich and happy. Ventura signed a five-year contract that would keep him in a Royals uniform through at least the 2019 season.

But what you really need to know about this young man was how he wound up playing baseball at the Major League level.

According to a story on espn.com, Ventura dropped out of school at the age of 14 and became a construction laborer in an effort to support his poor family.

While on a job site, Ventura heard about a tryout the Royals were conducting at their baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, a country traditionally rich in baseball talent.

From there, a star was born….unfortunately his flame was extinguished way too early.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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