Kansas City Royals

‘Crazy’ energy carried Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez through heartbreak

Edinson Volquez started Game 5 of last year’s World Series while mourning the death of his father. After the Royals won in extra innings, he held the trophy.
Edinson Volquez started Game 5 of last year’s World Series while mourning the death of his father. After the Royals won in extra innings, he held the trophy. jsleezer@kcstar.com

When Edinson Volquez called his father, Danio, on the eve of the 2015 World Series, they spoke first of his father’s health because he’d just visited a Dominican Republic hospital to be examined for ongoing issues with heart disease.

“I’m doing good; everything’s fine,” Volquez remembered his father saying.

Then the talk turned to baseball with the father Volquez later would refer to simply as “one of the greatest men,” a mechanic who had bought him his first baseball glove and spikes and nurtured his inclination to emulate Pedro Martinez by videotaping all his son’s starts.

“We’re finally here,” Volquez told his father.

He meant the Royals, yes, but surely also the journey Volquez and his father shared from childhood through a career marked by extreme swings of successes and debacles.

Then came the purest of thrills for Volquez — telling his dad he would be the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series against the Mets.

“Oh, wow,” said Danio Volquez, who couldn’t wait to watch.

Less than 24 hours later, by the time Volquez took the mound at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 28, his father, 65, had died from what Volquez on Monday called a heart attack.

It was a shattering turn made surreal by the fact that it was known to any of 14.9 million people watching on television, many in the crowd of 40,320 and several teammates well before Volquez was informed after pitching six innings.

When he was told in the clubhouse of his father’s death, Volquez was in such numbed disbelief he needed to hear it repeated before he could absorb it. The shock then seized him as he was embraced by family and Royals’ front office personnel.

The decision not to tell Volquez before the game of his father’s death honored the wishes of Volquez’s wife, Roandry, the Royals and Volquez said.

And Volquez reiterated on Monday that he had been grateful he hadn’t known before the game that his father had died, because he didn’t know if he could have pitched if he had known. But even having such conviction behind the decision didn’t mean it was a cool, calculated matter to withhold, either — something the ever-thoughtful Volquez understood, too.

“It wasn’t hard just for me but for everybody,” he said.

Manager Ned Yost on Monday called it “one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” citing the “torment” of the moment and adding, “It was just horrible, really.”

All of which became the prologue to one of the most stirring performances in World Series history.

Days later, Volquez pitched six innings of two-hit, two-run (one earned) ball, paving the way to the clinching 7-2 win in Game 5 at Citi Field in New York.

In indelibly poignant scenes on the field after the game, Yost put a hand to Volquez’s face and told him, “Volqy, you came here and you wanted to make your family proud. You did it, and your family’s very proud and your dad’s very proud of you today.”

And amid the jubilation, third baseman Mike Moustakas, lugging the Commissioner’s Trophy, sought out Volquez near the back of the pitcher’s mound, where Volquez had subtly carved his father’s initials with his spikes.

Moustakas, whose mother, Connie, had died just weeks earlier, handed the trophy to Volquez as he wrapped his arms around him for long seconds.

Into Volquez’s ear so that only he could hear it surrounded by the hubbub, Moustakas told him, “I really love you, and we made our parents really proud and excited right now.”

Volquez said, “I love you, man.” And when Moustakas walked away,he stood transfixed by the trophy he was cradling, a look of loving appreciation that revealed everything about what the moment meant.

“Unbelievable,” he said then. “Look at that.”

It was all the more unfathomable, of course, considering that five days before Volquez had been at his father’s funeral with excruciation on his face that would make anyone understand his anguish. That day, he told The Associated Press in Santo Domingo that he didn’t know if he’d be ready to pitch again by Game 5.

Volquez had been unable to sleep for more than 24 hours. And he naturally was overwhelmed by the abrupt loss, the pain of his mother, Ana, and his three sisters, and the remarkable outpouring of support and condolences at the services.

But by that evening, he knew what he would do. His mother pulled him aside and said, “He wants you to pitch that game.”

Almost immediately, Volquez texted pitching coach Dave Eiland to tell him he would be ready.

Eiland encouraged that but largely tried to avoid baseball talk in their exchanges, not wanting to burden him as Volquez grieved.

Even when Volquez told him he was going to throw some while he remained in the Dominican a few more days, Eiland “didn’t want to talk about baseball,” Volquez said.

“I told him, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw (so) I’ll be ready,’” Volquez said.

As it happened, Volquez said, laughing, a day or so after the funeral he took out a glove he had at home and threw “for about seven minutes” with a friend who happened to have his glove handy.

As it also happened, maybe not throwing much wasn’t such a bad thing for Volquez, 32, who had thrown 200 regular-season innings for the first time in his career.

“Oof, still tired,” he joked Monday.

He arrived in the clubhouse before Game 4 at Citi Field to a swarm of hugs from the teammates and staff who’d showered him with steady text message support in his absence.

“Too much love,” he said, smiling, as he thought of that team and the one he sees around him now.

Then Volquez went into Yost’s office. He told Yost, “Hey, Skip, I want to pitch the game.”

Yost looked him in the eyes and said, “You want to do it? Yeah, all right, you got it.”

So Volquez set about his routine preparing for the game as he always does … with one slight extra flourish.

His father’s initials were etched inside his cap, a purposefully discreet gesture.

“That was my idea: You keep everything inside,” he said. “I don’t have to show my teammates I was really sad, or whatever, because I don’t want to pass the pain to my teammates. …

“I think I did a pretty good job keeping inside all my pains.”

But a rousing end of the tale hardly seemed assured when Volquez was greeted with a home run by leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson.

Wobbly as he might have seemed, late that night near that mound he would say he was steadied by a “lot of energy coming from the dirt, from the grass, all the way to your head.”

It seemed no less a mystical connection to his father on Monday.

“He was behind me, just telling me, ‘Stay there, stay there, be strong, be strong, focus on what you want to do,’ ” he said. “He kind of showed me the road. …

“You feel, like, a lot of energy. Something crazy. I can’t explain.”

Something that lent solace to agony, something that will forever endure in the lore of baseball — a game that cherishes its heritage of fathers passing the game on to sons.

“I keep him inside my heart,” Volquez said, “and just learn how to deal with it.”

Vahe Gregorian: @vgregorian