Reality of pitcher’s death hits Royals hard

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SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Kansas City Royals trickled through the clubhouse Monday, and hanging high above the entrance to the field was a huge black banner.

The exhilaration and excitement of the first day spring training suddenly was displaced by reality.

‘‘Ace 30.’’

The banner swiftly reminded them that charismatic right-hander Yordano Ventura is gone forever.

Ventura was killed three weeks ago in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. He was 25.

The Royals’ tears might have dried, but the pain still was seared across their faces.

‘‘It’s tough,’’ said first baseman Eric Hosmer, part of the Royals’ contingent who attended Ventura’s funeral in the Dominican Republic. ‘‘It’s not something we will get over. It’s not something we will forget. But we will continue to live our lives and play for his family and himself.’’

They simply have no choice.

‘‘Even though it’s a tragic accident, the fact remains that he’s not with us anymore,’’ manager Ned Yost said. ‘‘I still catch myself thinking about him being in our rotation, and it just takes time to work through that.’’

The anguish will be felt in South Florida, too, with the Miami Marlins gathering Tuesday for their first spring-training workout. They will be without ace right-hander Jose Fernandez, who was killed with two friends in a late-night boating accident in September.

‘‘There’s no script; there’s no way to handle it,’’ Marlins president Michael Hill said. ‘‘Everybody deals with it differently.

‘‘I think probably the biggest distinction for us is that we got to mourn at the end of [last] season. It was very therapeutic. We were together and there for each other. It was a really unifying event. The Royals now will have to go through those things.’’

There will be constant reminders of Fernandez and Ventura at camps this spring. Friends of theirs will share stories when they see one another. Even players who barely knew them will feel the emotional impact.

‘‘I remember when [Fernandez] passed away, we felt it over here,’’ Hosmer said. ‘‘When something like that happens, everybody feels it throughout the game. Baseball is a fraternity, a brotherhood of players. We got a lot of calls from people checking on us [after Ventura died].’’

Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado charged the mound, punched Ventura and threw him to the ground after he was hit by a pitch last June. Still, he telephoned Royals catcher Salvador Perez to express his sympathy when he heard the news.

‘‘Everyone cares in this game,’’ Yost said. ‘‘It’s like when that happened in Miami, that crushed all of us. It was just like something nobody could believe. It was a terrible feeling throughout all of MLB.’’

One of the first telephone calls Royals general manager Dayton Moore received after Ventura’s death was from Hill. They consoled each other through the tears. Hill provided guidance, knowing the anguish and heartache that lay ahead for an organization and a community.

‘‘I tried to be there and help him the best I could, the way people were there for me,’’ Hill said. ‘‘It will be difficult for them because it’s so fresh. We got a chance to get together, mourn together, and I feel like we grieved.’’

The Royals, who were scattered everywhere at the time of Ventura’s death, were able to mourn together a week later at their fan festival in Kansas City. There were prayers, a candlelight vigil and a time for reflection.

‘‘It’s hard, and it still hurts,’’ Moore said. ‘‘This has always been a close-knit group, but now the bond between our players and our organization has deepened because of it. We also all understand the brevity of life, and Yordano reminded us that tomorrow isn’t promised to us.’’

The healing will take time, and no one will rush the process. There will be times when the Royals and Marlins will be hit hard emotionally. But the game, cruel as it might sound, stops for no one.

‘‘The one thing we can do is stay together as a family, play in [Ventura’s] memory and keep remembering him,’’ Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. ‘‘Not seeing him will be the toughest thing. But what we can do is try to make him proud.’’

Follow me on Twitter @BNightengale.

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