By Justin Martinez (@JTheSportsDude)
Kansas City Star reporter Vahe Gregorian sat silently on a bus to Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, on Jan. 24, 2017, preparing himself for a long day.
The University of Pennsylvania alumnus was in his fourth year with The Star after departing the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he’d worked for the past 26 years.
Now Gregorian was en route to the funeral of Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, a 25-year-old phenom from Samaná. Ventura died in the early hours of Jan. 22 after losing control of his Jeep Wrangler and flipping over while trying to turn on a curved road in Juan Adrián.
The Royals allowed Gregorian and photojournalist John Sleezer to accompany them throughout the day. The two were the only media members from Kansas City given that privilege.
“(Kansas City) was a city in mourning,” Gregorian said. “At that point I realized that every picture, every little video burst, was being followed by everybody in Kansas City.”
The group arrived at Ventura’s home in Las Terrenas for the visitation at 10 a.m. Gregorian and another 80 people gave their condolences to the Ventura family, just a few feet away from a silver casket placed in the right corner of the room.
Even among the chatter, the cries of Marisol Hernández, Ventura’s mother, rang off the walls: a sharp reminder for Gregorian of the carefulness he’d have to conduct himself with.
“You have a responsibility to the people you cover,” Gregorian said. “My duties are to my job and my audience, but I do still have the responsibility to be a decent person.”
After saying its final goodbyes, the procession made its way to the cemetery in Samaná at 12:30 p.m. The streets were dense with people, forcing some members to walk the mile-plus trip. Gregorian followed, taking photos along the way and posting them on Twitter for those back home.
After stopping by the baseball field where Ventura learned to pitch as a child, the procession reached the cemetery at 2 p.m. A short service ensued, and Ventura was laid to rest at 2:30 p.m.
Gregorian returned to the bus, emotionally drained from the day’s events. It’s a trip that he considers one of the most powerful moments of his 30-year career, and one he won’t soon forget.
“(The trip) remains with me to this day,” Gregorian said. “We took our audience somewhere they couldn’t go, which was hard to do.”