Not because of the weather. For the second-straight day it was in the 60s here, although it was a more dreary day than Saturday. No complaints there.
Not because anyone in the family was sick. We are all reasonably healthy.
Not because of L’s basketball game. Although we lost by 2, it was a good game and the girls played really well.
Sunday sucked because of a text I got late in the morning from a friend back in KC with the news about Yordano Ventura.
Ventura wasn’t the first athlete to lose his life too early. Hell, he wasn’t even the only one to die on Saturday night/Sunday morning.
But he was the first who played for a team that I loved. I wasn’t Prince-died sad Sunday, but I was bummed for the rest of the day, the sadness rising a little each time I read another tribute to him from a baseball writer, by a fan, or news that his teammates were gathering with fans at Kaufman Stadium to celebrate his life.
My thoughts about Yordano? I’ll argue he was the most frustrating Royals prospect ever. There were plenty of guys who were high draft picks or minor league studs who never panned out if and when they made it the big leagues. But none of them ever had the ceiling that Yordano had while also showing the flashes of brilliance he showed.
From his earliest days with the Royals, he displayed the physical skills to be one of the best pitchers in the game. His first full year in the rotation, 2014, he had an amazing stretch of starts early in the season. He capped that year by throwing seven shutout innings in game six of the World Series.
But he always countered those brilliant stretches with the maddening ones. The innings where he would get two quick outs, walk a guy on a close 3–2 count, then lose focus and give up a single followed by a 3-run home run. There were the games where he appeared to be cruising and suddenly had a 35-pitch inning that prevented him from getting through the fifth.
And then there were the blowups. The yelling at opponents for no clear reason. The yapping with first base coaches as he walked off the mound. The three-straight starts in 2015 when benches cleared because of his antics.
With Yordano every start was a thrill ride of not knowing if he would be un-hittable or a head case. Would he be solid through six-plus, or meltdown in the third and tax the bullpen.
There was always something.
The 2016 season was disappointing in a lot of ways for the Royals. To me the biggest disappointment was that Yordano seemed stuck in mediocrity. Sure, he threw the most innings of his career. But he also gave up the most hits and had the highest ERA and WHIP of his career. And he was a mess in July. Then again, the whole team was. But the Royals seemed fed up with him and publicly acknowledged they were entertaining offers for him. Was he going to be another one of those guys with a million dollar arm that could never figure it out?
In the end, the Royals stuck with him, and he improved in the final quarter of the season. He was only 25, signed to a team-friendly contract for five more seasons, and still oozed with potential. You don’t give up on guys like that.
Looking ahead to 2017, there was the hope that maybe Yordano was a year behind Danny Duffy, a guy that also took awhile to figure it out. But once Duffy did, he became one of the better pitchers in the league for a stretch of the 2016 season. With guys like Yordano, you always hoped.
Many of the tributes to Yordano have mentioned his kid-like nature. He loved to goof off. His teammates, while weary of his on-the-field blowups, seemed to still love him in the locker room, where he was everyone’s little brother. Royals fans will never forget his epic celebration in the locker room after the Royals clinched the 2016 AL pennant. “OOOOOH BABY!” was a meme on Royals Twitter for some time.
There were also mentions of how hard he worked as a player, always diligent in his workouts, his dedication to watching video, his attention to his coaches. He made great efforts to master English, and proudly began giving interviews in his second language two years ago.
I first heard Yordano’s name when he was 18 or 19, back when the Royals still sucked but their minor league system was bubbling with young talent. I kept reading about this kid in A-ball in Illinois who had an electric arm. The scouts said if he could ever harness its power, he could be a gem. They also always mentioned his size, and feared his slight build would limit him to pitching out of the bullpen in the majors.
Yordano was too big to contain. He scoffed at people who said he was too small. He just kept throwing fire.