Yordano Ventura’s signature moment as a pitcher came in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series. It was an elimination game, and he was fantastic, electric, and a little wild. That’s because he allowed three hits and walked five in seven scoreless innings, but also because fantastic, electric, and a little wild was Ventura’s default setting.
At the beginning of the game, there was a tribute and moment of silence for Oscar Taveras:
Ventura took the mound with “R.I.P. OT #18” written on his hat, a tribute to his friend, and the emotion of the game was unmistakable, a reminder that sports is a paradox, important and unimportant at the same time. Just yesterday, it was a necessary detail of Ventura’s defining game. Now it’s a defining detail of Ventura’s defining game. It’s not a cruel irony; it’s just cruel.
Andy Marté also had a defining moment in the majors, but it’s one that’s remembered exclusively by Orioles and Indians fans. It exists on the internet as a highlight that’s presented without announcers, which is just perfect. There’s no explanation of the moment, just the gasp of the crowd. It was the biggest homer in a career that was supposed to have a lot more of them.
Both players died in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic just hours apart over the weekend. If it seems like coincidence, know that it’s not.
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report on driving fatalities around the world in which the Dominican ranked as the deadliest country in the world for motor-vehicle related deaths. A stunning 41.7 deaths per year per 100,000 people occur in the Dominican. When the Washington Post stretched that ratio out over a 70-year span, it calculated than 1 in 480 people will die because of a motor vehicle-related accident in that lifetime. And the real numbers may be worse.
That helps us understand, but it doesn’t help us comprehend.
The unspoken bargain of baseball is that it all has to end. If you close your eyes, you can picture a 75-year-old Mike Trout wobbling onto the field, doffing his cap, and acknowledging the cheers of thousands, most of whom never got to see him play. We all know this, but the salve is that there should be a career and lifetime packed in between then and now. There are hundreds of treacly ways to acknowledge how baseball can act as a proxy for real life, but that’s one of the most obvious and enduring. It always ends, but you’re hoping it’s as beautiful as possible for as long as possible.
What’s less obvious is that baseball is also a weird, unrepresentative cross-section of life, a subset of young millionaires, young success stories, young disappointments, and young never-weres. It’s where a person can be washed up at 25, old at 35, and fortunate to peak at 27, but only if they’re lucky. Mostly, though, it’s a cross-section of youth, which means we’re going to have irregular but unavoidable reminders that it isn’t always as beautiful as possible for as long as possible. Not when it comes to the sport. Not when it comes to life. It seems unfair when the reminder happens in a sporting context. Then something like this comes along and makes everything else seem silly.
Try making through this extended feature on Ventura without crying or losing your breath or needing to stop. Just wait until you get to the collage of pictures in his mom’s house.
For the fourth time in just over two years, we have to look into the void and acknowledge it. We spend most of our waking hours trying not to look the void in the eye because we don’t want to curl into a ball and give up, and baseball is usually one of the best ways to ignore it. The problem, though, is it often becomes one of the worst ways to get slapped in the face with it. It just happened twice in a span of hours.
I’ll remember Yordano Ventura for his talent, his energy, his brashness, his joy, his radiance, the fastballs that blew hitters away, and the fastballs that threatened them, for better or worse. One of the worst sins a baseball player can commit is to be boring. Here was the opposite of that, one of baseball’s most compelling shows. If the game is duller without him, just think of the emptiness that his family and friends have to face, because there’s no way he didn’t bring the same meteoric energy to their lives, too.
I’ll remember Andy Marté for the career I constructed in my head for him back in 2005, which isn’t fair. But I’ll also remember the kind of perseverance that’s needed to thrive in a country that’s even farther away from the last new country, as well as the love of the game that had to get him there.
Instead of watching them to forget, which is what baseball is supposed to be for, we’ll have to watch them to remember. There Ventura is, mowing down the Giants in 2014 and encouraging the frenzy of a stadium that was desperate for that exact kind of hope. There Marte is, hitting the ball a mile and making people think, “Here it comes. Here comes the second act.”
There won’t be a second act. There will just be an unfinished play and what could have been and a bunch of dumb words like this trying to find context and clarity in a world without it. Rest in peace, Yordano Ventura and Andy Marté. Rest in peace, and thanks for helping us forget, even if the world suddenly forced us to remember.