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Royals fans gather at Bartle Hall to ring in a new baseball season, and say goodbye to Yordano Ventura

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's a time to celebrate, and a time to heal.

As Kansas City Royals fans meet up at FanFest 2017, there's a mood of reverence in the air at Bartle Hall. Baseball fans in the metro are using this gathering as a means of mourning a lost hero.

The mood feels different this year, as opposed to post editions of FanFest. The loss of pitcher Yordano Ventura, a beloved member of the Royals franchise, can't be overlooked.

Royals fans are in the midst of a long goodbye. FanFest's primary attraction for 2017 is the huge Ventura memorial area, an intimately lit section that takes on the texture of a church service. Soft piano music plays in the background. Ventura's jersey sits on an easel in the middle of a makeshift pitcher's mound, with photos and video tributes playing all around.

"It's hard," Laura Nedeau, a tearful Royals fan from Olathe, said. "It's sad to see what our boys have gone through."

Another section of the Ventura memorial serves as a wall-sized sympathy card, an ethereal poster of sorts, meant for fans to handwrite their memories of the Royals righthander.
"When you have someone like this who passes too soon, it's hard. It hits home. It's one of our guys," Nedeau added.

The fan-generated memorial, which has evolved outside Kauffman Stadium since Sunday night, has, in part, been relocated to FanFest. Flowers from Friday morning's private memorial service, meant exclusively for Royals staff members and players, are also placed here.

"It's humbling. It shows you how precious life really is," Shawn Walsh, a Royals fan from North Kansas City, said.

Walsh says he has a number of special memories with Yordano. Walsh works as a food vendor at Kauffman Stadium, and says Ventura always took time to stop and socialize with concessions workers. That's why Walsh took time to visit the memorial and record his grief.

"I wrote on there he'll be sadly missed and that he's forever in our hearts. We loved watching him. He's just a great player. Now he's in God's hands," Walsh said.

Linda Venegas, a longtime Royals fan from Lenexa, says it broke her heart when Ventura was killed in last Sunday's car accident in his native Dominican Republic. FanFest is her chance to say goodbye, and take in his spirit one final time.

"The city feels like they're sons of their own," Venegas told FOX 4 News on Friday afternoon.

"That's what it's about, just honoring him for what he represented stood for as a pitcher and a player. It meant as much to him to win as it did to us."

FanFest continues at Bartle Hall through Saturday evening. Tickets can be purchased via the Royals official website.