Full of promise, Fortuna remembered by Royals
Young pitcher leaves indelible mark on organization before losing battle with cancer
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Most Royals fans never knew Carlos Fortuna. They missed someone special.
Fortuna's career occupies hardly an inch of type in the Minor League section of the Royals' Media Guide. He never got above the Rookie classification in his three seasons, from 2007-09. The line where his statistics should have been for the last three years reads simply: "Did Not Pitch."
Fortuna instead was fighting cancer, a disease that began in his liver and crept into his lungs before it was too late for a transplant that might have saved him.
Fortuna passed away on Sunday in the Dominican Republic, where he was born in 1990 at La Romana. He never won a game in the Major Leagues, but he had a major effect on those who knew him.
"I played with him for three years, he was such a good dude. You never saw him without a smile on his face," said Royals pitcher Danny Duffy, who trained in the Minors with Fortuna. "I think we can really learn something from him, the way he carried himself and didn't take a day for granted."
Duffy gazed toward the Royals' practice fields they shared.
"I'll come out here and I'll just go through the motions, and at those times, we've got to think of the drive and desire that Fortuna had," Duffy said. "He just wholeheartedly loved the game, and it was tough to hear that he'd passed away. But he's in a better place, and we're all going to miss him around here."
|"He gave everybody a different outlook on life. I always try to look at things on the bright side, and a lot of that is because of Carlos."|
|-- Royals pitcher Everett Teaford|
Like many Dominican kids, he signed a pro contract when he was 16, a right-hander with the world ahead of him.
"He was really good," said Scott Sharp, the Royals' director of player development. "He was a different build and body but kind of precursor to Yordano Ventura. When he was 19, he threw 95, 96 [mph], good curveball. Intelligent kid. Learned the language quick, assimilated very quickly, loved to play. He had a lot of upside as a pitcher."
The late afternoon sun was settling on the Royals' practice fields.
"You forget how young he is," Sharp said. "He was 22 and he was sick for three years. He would have been 23 on Sunday."
Reliever Kelvin Herrera remembered when he and Fortuna were roommates at the Royals Dominican Academy.
"When I signed with the Royals in 2007, my first year as a pro player, he was my friend," Herrera said. "I remember I was in the lower bunk bed and he was in the top. He was always moving around and I'd say, 'Don't do that, you'll break it and fall on me!' He'd say, 'No, I only weigh 220 -- it's not that much!' He was a healthy guy, and it was weird that he got so sick."
They were both 17 in those carefree days.
"He was a big guy, we used to call him 'The Beast,'" Herrera said. "It didn't matter what kind of person you were, he was always the same guy to you."
A good guy, and a guy who'd battle cancer with all he had.
"It would be three years ago this summer, and he put up quite a fight," Sharp said. "Unfortunately, it's a devastating disease and he didn't win the fight. But he fought hard."
The Royals did all they could for Fortuna. Perhaps he couldn't pitch, but he was part of the family. Owner David Glass and president Dan Glass made sure the club looked after his medical needs. He made periodic trips to a Chicago-area clinic for treatment.
When feeling well enough, Fortuna worked out at the complex.
"He did, and I think that gave him hope," Sharp said. "He knew in his heart he was going to be able to beat it and he was going to be able to pitch again. And I think if he wouldn't have been able to do that, in his own mind, he would have been giving up, and that wasn't him."
A couple of years ago during Spring Training, manager Ned Yost had him take the lineup cards to home plate before games. The players also welcomed him to a locker in the Major League clubhouse. He could be close to his dream.
Pitcher Everett Teaford was in his first big league camp in 2011 and met Fortuna.
"The thing about Carlos is he was always happy, you would have never known in a million years that he had such a serious illness," Teaford said. "I got sent to Triple-A, and Carlos would have given anything to be in my position, even though it's not where you want to be. He gave everybody a different outlook on life. I always try to look at things on the bright side, and a lot of that is because of Carlos."
Pitcher Bruce Chen, who befriended Fortuna, remembered that the Royals brought him to Kansas City for Opening Day 2011 against the Angels. Fortuna was given permission to join the players in the bullpen on a cold afternoon.
|"He loved life, he loved people. He was an honest person, worked hard, had great tools and was a prospect. It was all the things you wish your own son could be as far as a genuine person. He's going to be sorely missed."|
|-- Former Royals bullpen coach Steve Foster|
"He wasn't feeling well and he was wearing a Royals jacket, and everyone was freezing and everybody was complaining about how cold and miserable it was," Chen said. "When he came in, all he could say was 'This is the best game I've ever seen. I can't believe I'm here. I had the greatest time!' We were all complaining about the situation, and we're playing a Major League game on Opening Day and he's the one that's grateful and happy to be here, appreciates it and really understands what the most important things are in life."
That day also happened to be Fortuna's 21st birthday.
During his visits to Kauffman Stadium, Fortuna would be in uniform and join the bullpen crew.
"Everybody that would come up to our bullpen, no matter who it was, we'd put their name up on top of the lineup card so we wouldn't forget a man. No man forgotten," said Steve Foster, the bullpen coach at the time. "And when Fortuna came up -- it was a nice gesture by the Glasses to let Carlos come up -- he became part of our family and a lot of those guys got to know him deeper, and it was a special thing. If I ever forgot to put it up in the bullpen, they would recognize it immediately and say, 'Get his name up on the card.' "
Eventually, the visits became less frequent. Fortuna spent more time in the Dominican, close to his family and home.
"He loved life, he loved people," Foster said. "He was an honest person, worked hard, had great tools and was a prospect. It was all the things you wish your own son could be as far as a genuine person. He's going to be sorely missed."
Fortuna, with his big smile and tremendous determination, never pitched in a Major League game, but he had a lasting impact.
"I never heard him complain about how life was horrible or that he had bad luck. I never heard him complain, he was always looking forward," Chen said. "He was a very religious person, he believed in God and he was very thankful for all the people he was able to connect with. He always found the best out of a bad situation."
Foster, the bullpen coach, recalled a day he stood with Fortuna in the outfield during batting practice in Kansas City.
"He stood in the outfield shagging with me and he started crying, standing there," Foster said. "He was talking about the fact that he was so grateful for every day that he had been given and that he had a new perspective going through what he was going through. He was standing in the outfield at Kauffman with tears in his eyes, and he's telling me, 'Don't waste a day. ... Don't waste a day.'"
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.