Webb: Time to accept end of Royals run


Alex Gordon.jpg

No player epitomizes the Royals demise in the past two seasons more than Alex Gordon, who has gone from an All-Star to a .211 average and .638 OPS.

Several hours after the Royals flailed their way to a fourth straight loss and 34 innings without scoring a run Sunday, I grabbed my iPhone, tapped on the YouTube app and typed in “2015 World Series Game 1.”

I spent 30 minutes scrolling through various points of that game, from Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park home run to Alex Gordon’s game-tying homer, to Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly to win in the 14th inning.

As Royals fans, we’re always going to have 2015. Flags fly forever.

A day later, as I watch the Royals slog through another game with no heart or emotion, I can’t believe this is the same team that won a World Series less than two years ago.

There are five stages of grief, and we’ve gone through them all in the last week as the Royals of Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain succumb to a slow, mind-numbing death:

Denial: “So, Minor blew a game (again). We’re coming off a Hosmer walkoff and can get right back in it in Cleveland.”

Anger: “How do you not score a frigging run against Ryan Merritt and Mike Clevinger?” Followed by, “Why the hell is Eric Skoglund starting a big game in the major leagues?”

Bargaining: “Eh, Cleveland is white hot, and we’ve still got the Wild-Card. This team will get hot again.”

Depression: “We’re at 40 scoreless innings and counting, including six again Austin Pruitt and his 5.72 ERA. It’s over.”

Acceptance: “Instead of cussing and yelling at the TV, I’m calmly writing this blog and intrigued that the Royals could set the big-league record for consecutive scoreless innings (48).”

I often told myself years ago as the Royals bumbled their way through lost decades that I would never be spoiled if they started winning again. I would appreciate having a team you can take pride in. I failed miserably. I’m spoiled. Watching this team fail sucks.

It’s another good lesson to enjoy success when it’s happening. I should have enjoyed it more when the Royals had a string of miraculous comebacks to win a championship.

The 2016-17 Royals also are a great example of just how hard it is to win like they did in 2014-15. It takes talent. It takes heart. It takes discipline. It takes luck. And it takes strategy.

The latter two have been awful the last two seasons. The heart-breaking death of Yordano Ventura. Injuries to Moustakas, Cain, Gordon and Wade Davis probably cost Kansas City a playoff spot in 2016. That’s terrible luck.

General Manager Dayton Moore’s strategic moves have been nothing short of awful: Signing Gordon to a long-term deal, signing Joakim Soria to any length of deal, signing Travis Wood, trading Davis for Jorge Soler. For every great move he made from 2013-2015, the balance has come due.

But the lack of heart … that hurts. The fans deserve better, especially when we know it’s going to be a long, slow rebuilding process (let’s hope it’s not 30 years this time).

[Prove me wrong again in writing your obit, Royals. I think I’m right this time, though.]


Webb: Home is where the heart was and is



The vintage arcade 1984 was one of the main reasons we made the trip to Springfield, Missouri, a few weeks ago. The arcade has an array of old-school games like Track & Field.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went on a mini-vacation – more of a trip, really – to Springfield, Missouri. Though we’d been planning the trip for several months, it ended being squeezed between two life-changing events: My departure from Metropolitan Community College and beginning a new job at my alma mater, Washburn University.

We’ve had some memorable vacations, most notably more than a week off to visit San Diego in 2015. The 2017 version of a vacation was as much about taking a break from the grind as it was anything.

I recommended Springfield several months ago for a couple of reasons: 1. To satisfy the nerd in me with a trip to the vintage arcade 1984. 2. To revisit where I grew up: southwest Missouri.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I grew up a borderline hillbilly. Let’s just say one of my parents refers to me as “Ernie Bill” to this day. It was the best way the family came up with to differentiate between three people with the same name: Grandpa, dad and myself (Grandpa, at 6-foot-2, was Big Ernie, dad was Little Ernie and I was Ernie Bill, or E.B.).

Much of my brother and I’s upbringing was in the country. We rarely lived in town until high school. In between periods of living several miles outside of Neosho, Anderson and Lebanon, Missouri, we had a small house in the center of Joplin, on the edge of the large swath the F5 tornado left in 2011.

Though we often lived in the middle of nowhere, we were never bored. When we weren’t traveling across the Heartland with our parents on business trips, we were hunting, fishing and playing any sport we could on large, open pastures. I have fond memories of playing catch with my father, the hours of practice resulting in a pretty good Little League career.

I also remember growing up with good, old-fashioned country folks. These were people who worked hard and played hard. Virtually every weekend, there was a large fish fry, followed by a dance featuring a plethora of beer (for the adults, of course).

That part of our life came to an end in 1989 when mom and dad moved us from Lebanon, where we’d been for five years, to tiny Burlingame, just outside of Topeka. Our parents told us about the move just a few weeks before the end of school. A seventh-grader who was finally comfortable at Lebanon Junior High, I was devastated.

In the years after, I often wondered what my former classmates were up to. Sometimes, I wondered how things would have worked out if we’d stayed. Fortunately, social media has connected most of those dots.

As for my wife and I’s trip back to the homeland, I wanted to see how much the towns have changed in the 20 years since I last visited. As we drove around Lebanon visiting the schools I attended through seventh grade, hundreds of memories crossed through my mind: Little League games at Jones Park, dances at the junior high and the first crush.


Once a clean, well-manicured property, the land I grew up on resembles a junkyard in 2017.

We drove by both places where my childhood homes sat. Both are gone now, one replaced by a plush new home, the other burned to the ground. The latter plot of land now serves as a dumping ground for dilapidated trailer homes, junked out cars and other trash. Gone are the basketball goal I shot on daily and the tree house my dad spent days building while my mom, brother and I were on vacation in California.


The more we drove around, the more I thought, “Things seemed so much bigger then than they are now.” It’s a shame that happens.


Why wife paying respect to a man she never met, unfortunately. My grandfather, Big Ernie, died in 1984.

My wife and I also visited Anderson, Missouri, where I attended kindergarten and first grade, followed by Joplin (second and third grade). We also visited my grandfather at the local cemetery. As my wife cleared off his headstone, I thought about the day he died in 1984. I was only seven, but I’ll never forget the devastation on my father’s face when he hung up the phone.


I realized as we were driving home that the trip was closure for me. In some ways, I never got over leaving Lebanon as a 13-year-old and losing several wonderful friends. But, as I looked over at my wife, I realized I never would have met her if we’d stayed. I wouldn’t have three great kids. I wouldn’t have the amazing best friend I’ve had since eighth grade, nor the hundreds of wonderful friends I met in Burlingame and in Topeka. I wouldn’t have attended Washburn University.

I finally came to the conclusion that going back it always good, but so is coming home.

Forever Ichabod: Washburn has always been home

wu moves

It’s true: Washburn does move me. Enough so that I’m going back next week.

I spent much of my childhood on the road with my parents, who ran a small leather crafts business. On most weekends, my brother and I would travel with our parents across the Heartland to craft shows throughout the region.

One weekend, my dad and I would wake up at 4 a.m. and drive across Missouri to Hannibal, while mom and my brother would travel into Kansas for a show in Coffeyville. The next weekend, one set would trek to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the other to Hillsboro, Kansas.


Both of my degrees, including a master’s, are from Washburn University.

Once in a while, my brother and I would go on a road trip with one parent, while the other worked the show alone. Topeka just happened to be one of the trips.

Every Fourth of July, my mom would drive from our home in Lebanon, Missouri, to Washburn University, where we set up a booth at Go Fourth. The idea, of course, was that the sons would help their mother. More often than not, we weren’t at the booth.

Instead, my brother and I would run around a campus that seemed gigantic to a couple of borderline hillbillies from southwest Missouri. We spent most of the show in the basement of the Memorial Union, which had a small arcade with about 15 games, a TV room and vending machines.

The Union also had an elevator, which we rode up to the top floor from the basement about 6,594 times. When we weren’t in the Union, we hung out around the fountains in front of Mulvane Art Museum or spent much of our time with the Scardinas, who also had a crafts business and lived in Topeka.

The Scardinas’ sons were amazing hosts, taking the hillbillies to the palace known as West Ridge Mall and letting us ignite half of the fireworks they purchased on the Fourth.

Other than growing up a University of Missouri fan, Washburn was my first experience on a college campus. Not in a million years, however, did I imagine how much an impact the school would have on my life.

Even after we moved 20 miles south of Topeka in 1989, Washburn wasn’t on the radar. When I realized that Mizzou and TCU were out of the price range, I ended up going to Kansas State for a year.

Academically, I did OK. Emotionally, I wasn’t ready. K-State was far too big and far too impersonal. It just didn’t feel like home.

After spending a year at Allen County Community College in Burlingame, where I also went to high school, I really had no idea where I was going to go. I did attend a Transfer Day at Washburn in 1996, expecting to enroll.

I didn’t listen well in 1996 (my wife might argue that I still don’t), so I “heard” that Washburn wasn’t going to take most of my credits during a session on transferring (that wasn’t the case). My dad and I left 45 minutes into the event.

Completely lost, I called several schools when we got home, asking primarily if they had a journalism program. After 30 minutes on the phone, I got a call that changed my life. The Admissions director at Washburn discovered we left early and spoke to me for 20 minutes about the Mass Media department and the University.

He asked if I’d come up for a one-on-one tour of the campus the next day. I came to campus early that next morning, met with the director and Mass Media chairperson and enrolled in classes that day.

Two years later, I was editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, one of the youngest members of a school board in the state of Kansas and an assistant high school basketball coach. None of that happens if I don’t attend Washburn.

Years later, when I left the newspaper industry, I struggled mightily to find a full-time job. Being a genius, I picked the worst time to change careers: 2010, when the economy rode the struggle bus. After a year of surviving at a part-time job, the Washburn Alumni Association hired me as media relations specialist.

During the next four years, I wrote hundreds of stories about alumni, reconnected with professors I’d had in class and met some of the finest people you can imagine, most of whom shared the bond of graduating from Washburn.

In 2015, I knew if I wanted to climb the ladder, I needed to step out of my comfort zone and take a risk. After several agonizing days trying to make a decision, including a couple of tearful nights, I decided to leave my alma mater to become campus communications coordinator at Metropolitan Community College-Business & Technology.

ernie jeanne

I worked with amazing people at MCC, including Je-Anne Rueckert, an instructor and lab technician in the HVAC department.

For nearly two years at MCC-BT, I tried to learn as much as I possibly could to become a better marketer and communicator. In the meantime, I continued to work toward a master’s degree, which I finally received in May.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that opportunity would knock at Washburn within two years of leaving. But it has. To make a long story short, I’m returning to my alma mater next week as director of strategic marketing and communications.

To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I’m also humbled that a school I love so much would give me such a wonderful opportunity.

Before I go, I want to thank MCC, in particular the staff and faculty who work their tails off to make the college a high-quality academic experience in Kansas City. I can’t possibly name everybody, but folks like Mike, Dan, Steve, Shawn, Ryan, Tracy, Tatia, Dixie, Aaron, Matt, Jen, Star, Lisa, Jim, Robert, Je-Anne and dozens of others have made the experience a great one. Without the knowledge I gained at MCC, I would not be returning to Washburn.

As for my alma mater: Thank you. From Go Fourth to now, thank you for bringing me home.


Webb: Brenda Michelle Keller case has lasting impact, hope


The Dover Federated Church looks much the same as it did 25 years ago.

Every night, I walk to every door and window in the house, often twice, checking to see that they’re locked. Sometimes, I look in closets and under the bed.

I’ve been doing this meticulously for five months now. It’s not a coincidence that I’ve followed this routine since the day I started researching 12-year-old Brenda Michelle Keller’s murder.

As I wonder through the house to make sure the boogeyman can’t get in, I often think of growing up in a time of innocence, when we lived in the country, miles from civilization, sleeping with your doors unlocked and windows open.

For several months this year, I couldn’t get the windows in our house to lock properly. It drove me crazy, especially after I read the police reports about the Keller case and began to research other notable cold cases. I sleep much easier now that they do lock properly.

On several of the nights when I did fall asleep, I’d wake up in a cold sweat, fear shooting through my body as I heard a creak in our aging duplex. It was one of the cats, of course, but that didn’t stop me from climbing out of bed, grabbing the nearest club-like item and searching the house.

It’s safe to say Brenda Michelle Keller’s case has had a profound impact. And I’m not alone.

Every person I’ve interviewed has been affected. All of them keep a closer eye on their children and lock their doors and windows.

Some are in therapy, still trying to cope 25 years later. Others are scared of men. Many check their house nightly for signs of danger.

After a nightmare in March that seemed so real I got out of bed and slept on the couch with all the lights on the main floor on, my concerned wife asked, “Are you sure you can do this?”

The answer, of course, was a resounding, “YES.” As I wrote a few years ago, I’ve visited Brenda at the Dover Cemetery every year for 20 years now. Fate placed me in this story, and I hope to do this amazing little girl and her family justice.

I haven’t shared what I’ve written about this case for many reasons. In time, I will. For now, here’s an excerpt:

Though some things have changed in the past 25 years in Dover, the church has the same homey look and feel. As patrons walk up concrete stairs and into the nearly century-old building, tables flank the left and right side of the entrance.

Resting on the table to the left are CDs of Bob’s recent sermons, Dover Federated Church business cards, programs for the day’s service and prayer lists. The table on the right holds a guest book, which confirms that almost all of the people visiting the church are there week-in and week-out.

Red carpet lines the floor on the first level of the church, with eight rows of stained wooden pews on either side of the center aisle. Behind the main rows of pews lie short pews less than 10 feet long, three rows deep.

A steep set of stairs inside the entrance leads to four more rows of pews on either side behind a balcony 15 feet above the first floor. A nursery stocked with decades-old toys is at the back of the second floor. The balcony overlooking the church is the technology hub of the building, with an impressive sound system and projector – the product of a long fundraising campaign – providing booming vocals as Bob, Tracy, and members sing, as well as vibrant imagery for PowerPoint presentations during Bob’s sermons.

Stained glass windows, recently refurbished after a large estate gift from a longtime churchgoer, shine on the east and west walls, which lead to a beautiful varnished wood stage featuring an aging pupil at the center. Two flags, including an American flag on the east side, sit on either side of the stage, with several microphones and an organ on the left side. A large wooden cross at the back of the stage dominates the south end of the church.

For 30 years, Bob has delivered God’s message in the church, weaving personal stories and humor into passages from the Bible. On Jan. 29, 2017, as part of an ongoing series, his sermon was about the book of Genesis, particularly the story of brothers Cain and Abel.

“Today, the beginning of sin as it gets out of control, the tragic story of Cain,” he said. “Starting in verse one, now the man had relations with his wife, Eve, this is right after the fall and sin, they’ve been kicked out of paradise. And she conceived and gave birth to Cain. Again, she gave birth, to his brother Abel.

“Now, here is beautiful moment in Adam and Eve’s life, they’ve had their first baby. Imagine the joy, and they think on God’s promise to send a deliverer. … Great hopes. That’s the point I’m trying to get to. There are always great hopes when you have a child.”

As Bob commonly does, he used a personal anecdote to enhance the sermon: “I’ll never forget working nights at a Quick Shop in Wichita. When I say nights, I mean midnight to eight in the morning. That was a crazy place, crazy time to work. Weird people come out in the night time. I’ll never forget this huge man comes walking in, tall, big, and he buys something, and I click on the register, and he hit it! ‘I’m sorry, I’m looking for nickels,’ he said. ‘I said, OK,” as the church erupted in laughter.

Bob continued with the story, telling the congregation that he eventually became friends with the man, sharing the joy he was experiencing after the birth of his first son in 1976.

“Soon, there was Abel,” he said. “But I think the joy was brief. And you start to think about it, the first baby born grew up to be a murderer. And the second born grew up to be the first victim. Think about that.”

Bob paused after that statement, scanning the church, where the Blakes sat in the back row and the author of this story, along with his family, sat 15 feet to the left of them.

“I thought about that when I was giving the sermon, how fitting it was that you were there,” he said later.

Bob continued to tell the story of Cain, who murdered his brother out of jealously. According to the Bible, Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a shepherd, each offered sacrifices of their produce to God, and God favored the younger brother.

“The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain he had no regard for his offering,” Bob said. “Why did he prefer one over the other? I think it was faith. At the heart of it, one was offering by faith. So, Cain was very angry, his countenance fell. He became depressed. And the Lord God said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up. And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door, and it desires for you.’”

Not long after, Cain killed Abel.

“So here, we see the terrible effects of sin, as it’s allowed to just grow along to the bitter end,” Bob said. “Sin begins in the human heart, and if unchecked, it works its way out, in our thoughts, in our words, and ultimately in our deeds. If you let it go, it gets the upper hand, and it results in terrible, terrible destruction.”

Bob couldn’t help but think about Brenda during this sermon, though he didn’t mention his daughter. He concluded the 30-minute message by saying, “Sin is like an acorn. It falls from an oak tree, and there it is lying on the ground. While it’s there and hasn’t taken root, a child can pick it up, but if it’s allowed to take root, eventually it becomes so large. God has his part to deal with sin. He gave us Jesus. He gave us the spirit, and then we have our part to walk in independence on the spirit, to walk in faith with God. So, don’t flirt with it, don’t dabble with it. Throw the bum out. Even here in this terrible, terrible story, we find hope. And that hope is through your life and through Jesus Christ.”



Webb: Words of wisdom for my stepson on graduation, part II


ernie and brody

Taking senior pictures with my stepson Brody, whose natural-born intelligence helped him make up more than two years of high school in a year. We took senior pictures together because he’s graduating from high school this month, and I graduated with a master’s degree last week.

Three years ago, my eldest stepson, Rory, graduated from high school. Your first child graduating is a special moment. It’s as big a step for the parents as it is for them.

Now that the second stepson is graduating, all I can think is, “Thank the Lawd.”

In all seriousness, it’s been a struggle with Brody academically. The one time he excelled in the classroom, I had to bribe him with a PlayStation 4. Brody being Brody, he came home one grade short of straight A’s that semester.

The more I thought about that, the more I thought about how frustrating – and probably infuriating – it had to be for his teachers. We’re talking about a kid who got a 19 on his ACT at age 11 and got the highest assessment score at his middle school in the seventh grade.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for his teachers (and parents) was his propensity to do virtually nothing all semester, finish with literally hundreds of missed assignments and go into finals with low F’s. And when I say low F’s, I mean low F’s (like sub-30 percent).


One of the reasons I love Brody: He looks like his mother and inherited her incredible intelligence.

Brody being Brody, we’d check his grades right after finals to find that he’d managed to pass with flying colors (as in brown with low D’s). Time and time again, he’d score better than 100 percent on finals after doing zero work during class for months. It was aggravating – and impressive as hell.

Brody probably won’t like me breaking down his blasé attitude about school, but the important thing is to recognize that I’m praising him for his will. Just last year, as a junior, he was so far behind that I was certain he’d be roughly 40 when he final walked across the stage at commencement.

In less than two years, this kid passed three-and-half years worth of high school courses. Not bad considering many of them his freshmen year were honors classes. We never questioned Brody’s intelligence. In fact, he’s probably too smart and far too bored for high school.

When Rory graduated, I shared some words of wisdom passed on from my parents. Here’s a modified version for Bro:

“You do what makes YOU happy”: I’ve heard those words many times in my life from my father, and they proved to be extremely valuable.

It’s more than about just being happy. Make decisions for yourself. If you want to go somewhere, go. If you have an opinion, voice it. If you don’t like the way you’re being treated, say it.

“Be a man of your word”: Unfortunately, you are going to find that honesty isn’t a virtue. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice it.

When you tell somebody you are going to do something, do it. When you see a wrong, point it out.

“Work hard”: You’re going to find that things are not going to come easily. Without hard work, you will not be successful. Find your passion, devote your life to it and bust your ass.

“Never give up”: I know you understand this. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. When you have a dream, believe you’ll do it. Write it down as a goal and work hard to achieve it. Be relentless in pursuing it.

“Be yourself”: Above all, you are a wonderful human being. A son to be proud of. You’re the smartest person your age I’ve ever met. You’re kind, sensitive and thoughtful.

Other words of wisdom: Tell your mother you love her. CALL YOUR MOTHER. Treat your mother and grandmother like you treat your girlfriend. Laugh every day. Cry when you need to. Tell the truth. Get to work on time. Sleep eight hours a day. Read as many books as you can. Enjoy the sunrise and sunset. Write. Visit your grandparents. Eat well. Be kind to children, older folks, animals and the less fortunate. Travel. Try new things. Do not carry fear. Never hesitate to ask me for more of these.



Bearcats partying like it’s 1995


Burlingame finished the regular season with a 20-2 record, reaching a state tournament for the first time since 1995. The Bearcats hadn’t won 20 games in a season since 1995-96.

The last time Burlingame’s boys basketball team played in a state tournament, Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” was a top-10 hit, “Seinfeld” was No. 2 in the TV ratings (behind “E.R.”) and “Seven” was a revelation on the big screen.

Twenty-two years. It’s been a long drought for the Bearcats, whose last appearance at state was in 1995. The players on the current team were several years away from being born, virtually nobody had any clue what the Internet was, and Hootie and the Blowfish was the most popular band on the planet.

Burlingame hadn’t been to a state tournament since 1950 before that season, so advancing to the Class 2A tournament in Manhattan was special. I remember it well because I was a freshman at Kansas State.

While most of the town drove the 70 miles from Burlingame to the Little Apple, my roommate Steve, also a BHS alumnus, and father walked from Marlatt Hall to Bramlage Coliseum. We arrived early enough to catch most of the opening game that day, which pitted No. 1 seed Frankfort against No. 8 seed Inman, both traditional state powers.

That game was memorable for several reasons. For starters, Inman pulled off a stunning upset, rolling past the Wildcats 78-65. The most memorable thing about that game was an athletic guard named Greg Friesen, who willed his team to the win with 37 points. Time and time again, Friesen slashed through Frankfort’s defense for short jumpers and layups.

Frankfort had a great player of its own, an all-state guard who scored 28 points on an array of floaters, long jumpers and drives to the basket. I remember watching that senior walk off the court with his head down, his high school career over much sooner than he expected.

Little did I know that I’d meet that Frankfort player in, of all places, Centre, at the end of the 2007 season. An assistant coach introduced him to me after Burlingame’s 70-65 loss to White City in a regional semifinal game. I remember talking to him about that 1995 game. All these years later, he still hasn’t watched tape of that loss to Inman.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m talking about Creighton Winters, the longtime coach who took over the program in 2005, battled through the occasional lean year and has put together perhaps the best team in school history in 2016-17.

For the longest time in Burlingame, the biggest problem was that a coach wouldn’t stick around. It’s impossible to build a program when you don’t have consistency.

About the time Winters started at BHS, the youth programs in Burlingame finally had traction. A few years later, a group of boys began playing basketball together. By the time they got to junior high, they simply didn’t lose. By the time they got to high school, Burlingame was ready to build a program. A few years later, those boys were ranked among the top five teams in Class 1A-Division I.

Going into the final weeks of the season, Burlingame appeared to be the favorite to win a tough sub-state in Olpe. The Bearcats were hot after losing in the Lyon County League tournament, using a close loss to Lebo to fuel a dominant second half of the season.

Then, of course, came a devastating injury when their starting point guard suffered a torn ACL in the final game of the regular season. I’d seen the look on Winters’ face after the game before, back in 1995 in Manhattan.

Many, including myself, felt the injury was going to cost Burlingame its first state tournament bid in decades. Fortunately, we were wrong. The Bearcats, a tough, gritty group, put on an impressive display of teamwork in sub-state, crushing a dangerous Southern Coffey County team and smothering a Lebo team with 10 seniors to end the long drought.

The community finally got a taste of success during the past two football seasons with trips to the Eight-Man I semifinals. Now, it gets another bite in the form of a three-hour drive to Hays for a state tournament.

Burlingame has ended a number of droughts in the last few years, including trips to the state semifinals in football, league titles in football and basketball, and a trip to a state basketball tournament. It’s about time another one comes to an end: winning a game at state, something the Bearcats have never done.

The last time Burlingame played in a state tournament, it played a Berean Academy team that had virtually no tradition. In the 22 years since, the Warriors have been to several state tournaments and won a championship in 2010. Let’s hope this year kick-starts a similar run for the Bearcats.

Webb: Ventura will always throw fire


World Series - San Francisco Giants v Kansas City Royals - Game Two

Yordano Ventura will always be remembered for “Let’s throw fire.”

“Let’s throw fire.”

Those three words became Yordano Ventura’s calling card during a career and life that was far too short, yet long on promise. I still can’t believe he’s dead at 25 years old, a shooting star who often burned so brightly but was gone in the blink of an eye.

As I woke Sunday morning and grabbed my phone, I couldn’t believe what I was reading: “Reports: Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura dead at age 25.” Perhaps I didn’t believe it at first. Maybe I was in shock.

When it became apparent that it wasn’t just a rumor, I didn’t throw fire. I threw water, as in a stream of tears, sobbing for a good 15 minutes. Yordano Ventura, the sometimes-frustrating, always-entertaining, firestorm of a pitcher is gone.

The lasting memory of Ventura will be the dominating performance in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series. With the season on the line, the 23-year-old throttled San Francisco to force a Game 7. He threw seven shutout innings, capping a World Series in which he pitched 12 1/3 innings, allowed two runs and had a 1.46 ERA. Without the heroics of Madison Bumgarner, he likely would have been the MVP as a rookie.

After an impressive rookie season (14-10, 3.20 ERA), the expectations exploded. Ventura didn’t handle it well the next two seasons, often struggling. He was about to be demoted in 2015 before Jason Vargas’ injury forced the Royals to bring him back before he reached Omaha.

He also started slowly last season before heating up during the summer months.

But the promise was always there. As a Royals fan, you didn’t miss a Ventura start. There always was a chance he’d dazzle, torching hitters with a triple-digit fastball and embarrassing them with a knee-buckling curve.

One of the last starts of his life was one of the most electrifying. On a hot day in late September, “Ace” mowed down the White Sox in the only nine-inning complete game of his career. Ventura often couldn’t find the strike zone, but on this day, he threw 72 strikes in 106 pitches. It was the kind of performance we hoped he’d deliver consistently.

Ventura also will be remembered for being temperamental. He wasn’t liked across baseball, drawing the ire of opponents after plunking them with 95-mph heaters, staring down hitters and igniting a couple of brawls.

As frustrating as he was, however, he was one of us, Forever Royal.

I’ll remember the exaggerated leg kick after blowing away a hitter. I’ll remember him staring down Troy Tulowitzki after freezing him with a filthy curve in Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS. I’ll remember that he spent the day after the heartbreak of losing Game 7 of the 2014 World Series playing softball with children. I’ll remember that electric smile.

Above all, I’ll remember “Let’s throw fire.”