Royals' Ventura and Cardinals' Martinez don't let I-70 Series sever their bond

BY foxsports • June 11, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some names bring fire to the eyes. Carlos Martinez brings a gleam. A gleam and a grin, as free and as puckish and as mischievous as they come.

"Obviously, I'm older than him," Kansas City Royals hurler Yordano Ventura says through a translator when asked about Martinez, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and fellow countryman. "I mess with him all the time. I tell him, 'Hey, you've got to listen to me, you know, I'm older than you.'"

So does he listen?

Another gleam.

"Oh, yeah," Ventura replies. "We have a good relationship."

The profiles are eerily similar, right down to the stuff. Ventura's fastball averages 95.9 mph, according to Fangraphs.com; Martinez's heater, 94.4, which puts the two Dominican righties among the top 25 hardest throwers in baseball to have logged at least 30 innings as of Thursday. A couple of live arms on slender frames -- the 24-year-old Ventura checks in at 6 feet, 185; the 23-year-old Martinez at 6 feet, 180 -- who hate to stinking lose.

"(We're) very similar as people and players," says Ventura, slated to take the bump Friday for the Royals as they visit Martinez's Cardinals in Game 1 of the eastern leg of the I-70 Series. "We both throw hard, and we both have that passion about us when we get on the mound."

They grew up more than two hours apart in the Dominican Republic. But despite often being compared to one another -- even as teenage phenoms -- they didn't meet and become friends until they reached the States, and Class A ball.

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"And we just kind of developed a relationship from that point on," Ventura explains.

Martinez, for his part, notes "a good relationship with Yordano," but that the two are usually too busy to get together unless they happen to be in the same town at the same time.

And in that case, the policy has always been the same: Mi sofa es tu sofa. While Ventura was at Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Martinez was chucking for Class AA Springfield (Mo.), the two would crash at each other's respective pads whenever one guy's team was playing in the other guy's city.

They'd "stay with each other in the apartment and just cook and have a good time together," Ventura says, "And everybody else would come over and just catch up. (It was) a good time to catch up with friends."

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One of those friends who would also join in was fellow countryman Oscar Taveras, the gifted outfielder in the Cardinals' system. Often, he and Ventura would stay up and talk about the future, plot their future glories in The Show. Both got there, but Taveras' career would be tragically cut short at age 22 when he was killed in a car accident last Oct. 26. Ventura wrote an inscription on his cap -- RIP O.T. #18 -- during last year's World Series as a tribute to his fallen friend.

"It was kind of close, yeah," Ventura says. "Close-knit."

So close that when Ventura roped in a reported five-year, $23 million extension on April 4, Martinez went to Twitter to offer up a social media high five:

"I saw the tweet and I called him right away," Ventura recalls. "I called Carlos and we got to talk for about an hour or so. Just talked about different things."

Home. Life. Blessings. Oscar.

"Just being grateful," Ventura says, "for the things that we've got."

In the winter, they'll see one another occasionally, "like a weekend or something," Ventura says, but that their respective families usually come first. They've got text messages, and the knowledge that when the Royals visit St. Louis, Ventura has the comfort of a couch waiting, same as always.

If he wants it.

"I'll stay over there," the Royals' hurler says. "Probably." He grins again. Old habits, like good friends, are hard to let go.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.


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