KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could work a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.
It was a chance tryout with the Royals that changed the trajectory of his life.
Yordano wowed scouts with an electrifying fastball and a brash demeanor. Both traits served him well as he rocketed to the majors, helped the Royals win a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015 and became one of the most popular players in a city that embraced baseball one again.
Ventura, nicknamed "Ace," died Sunday in a car crash on a highway near the town of San Adrian in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.
"Our team and our organization is hurting deeply," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective and challenges us all to never grow tired or weary or cease to do what is right. … Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.
"We loved Yordano. We loved his heart, we loved who he was as a teammate, a friend. He was somebody that challenged us all and made us better."
Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a stretch of highway 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, the nation's capital. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.
He's the second young star pitcher to die in the past four months. Marlins ace and Alonso High product Jose Fernandez was 24 when he was killed along with two other men in a boating crash near Miami Beach in September.
Also Sunday, former major-league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car wreck in the Dominican Republic, about 95 miles north of the capital. Marte, 33, played in the majors from 2005-2010 with Atlanta and Cleveland, and returned in 2014 with Arizona. He played the past two seasons in South Korea.
The Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic-related death rate in the world. Officials there believe alcohol, speed and a blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame.