By Josh Mabry, News Partnerships
“The Kansas City Royals are the lifeblood of this city,” says Eric Nelson, assistant managing editor of digital at The Kansas City Star, the area’s largest and oldest newspaper. That’s why news of the death of 25-year-old Dominican pitcher Yordano Ventura, who in 2015 helped the team win its first World Series in 30 years, devastated fans across the city.
In response, The Star sent a columnist and photojournalist to the Dominican Republic to cover the funeral. “We were hoping we’d get a good photo,” says Nelson. Instead, photojournalist John Sleezer found just enough reception from the streets of Las Terranas to go live on Facebook during the funeral procession. For more than 45 minutes, Sleezer broadcast the procession that started with Ventura’s teammates, friends and family carrying a coffin through the town and ended with a ceremony on the pitching mound where he first learned to play baseball.
It became one of the more emotionally resonant, impactful and popular stories the paper had published recently. “It was jaw-dropping to see the number of viewers, comments and shares,” says Nelson, who notes the live video did multiple times better than the newspaper’s other Facebook Lives. “When something like that happens and you can step up and give back to the community, it feels great. It gave everyone a real lift during what was really an emotional and traumatic story.”