Loss of Marlins Jose Fernandez Brings Unwelcome Perspective

“What do you do when the only one who can make you stop crying is the one who is making you cry?” 

The anonymous quote above seems particularly fitting in light of Sunday’s events- the heartrending loss of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who perished in a fatal boat crash in the waters off Miami Beach at the age of twenty-four.

Sports are supposed to be the distraction, where we turn when anything from daily drudgery to unexpected tragedy creeps into our daily lives.

Instead, Sunday morning saw the sphere of our lives that we turn to for escapism offering us a grim reminder of how fleeting and precious life itself can be.

That pain is understandable, even inescapable. Fans pour so much into their teams, that a loss of favorite player such as Fernandez feels akin to the loss of a close friend. Even if the only true conversation you ever had with the player was to thank them for signing your baseball. And seeing others that you cheer for, idolize even, laid so low by that sense of loss, you hurt the same way you would if a friend were going through that same agony.

Of course, you identify on the human level as well. What if that were your child, your grandchild? Your friend, your family? All of the sports pushed aside, it still hits you. The senselessness, the waste, the lost years of a life that was so relished. Then there’s his story, the matter of how he reached this country to begin with, and the twisted irony that someone that tried four times to cross an ocean to find freedom would ultimately lose their life upon the waves. Just that alone, I mean what’s the math on that?

Even if Jose Fernandez never pitched an inning in the majors, and was just the world’s most enthusiastic and joyful day laborer, the cosmic injustice of that would still rankle.

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Sunday was a day spent in shock. Perhaps you too tried to distract yourself for a few hours with football, but I would imagine that a great many of you also found yourself never caring less if the Dolphins pulled off the victory or not.

But then the next day it was back to business, back to baseball.

“What do you do when the only one who can make you stop crying is the one who is making you cry?”  

That was what Monday night was, a completely confusing mix of emotions from start to finish. Watching seemed essential, a required part of the day. But did anyone expect what you saw, what you felt?

Will you ever forget hearing Take Me Out To The Ballgame performed with the same note of mournful finality as “Taps”?

Was there a single moment of Dee Gordon‘s heroic and uplifting at bat that you won’t be able to recall, even decades later?

Sports is an escape, the ultimate escape, for so many of us. Whether it’s the collective spirit that unites us together as a people during an Olympics or World Cup, or the outlet it provides in moments of personal crisis, we identify with sports to a degree matched by very little else that’s out there. You’ve likely read a lot of 9/11 comparisons in the past few days, and while absolutely incomparable in terms of scale, that really is the only other time in recent memory this degree of guilt and sorrow hung over a sporting event.

The win was great, but being together to mourn was far greater. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, rather than a few fleeting hours of normalcy, you were greeted with that bizarre blend of grief and relief. When the Marlins and Mets embraced before the game, the tears just burst forth. When Gordon homered, it was a coin toss if you were crying for joy or the absurdity of it all. Every run thereafter as the Fish raced to a staggering lead felt preordained, felt right, felt deserved. But you also couldn’t have brought yourself to judge at all if the score was flipped.

Who won this game mattered more than anything, and it was the biggest win for the Marlins since Josh Beckett tagged out Jorge Posada thirteen years ago. Except that winning couldn’t have mattered less, and all that mattered was watching and supporting. Catharsis in a way only “Sport” can provide.

And that’s likely how it’s going to feel the rest of the way. Mathematically, the Marlins are still in a playoff race. Should the Marlins have won Tuesday night, I’m sure I would have cheered. Just as sure as I am that it doesn’t matter that they didn’t. For all the best reasons, and none that deal with the likelihood of the team pulling off such a surge.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house Monday night. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As time goes on, the next level of fan pain will set in. Without question, in terms of future performance, this was a devastating loss of talent. The luster on a 2017 season that seemed to shine so bright in terms of potential is significantly dimmed. Jose Fernandez was an absolute joy to watch, a spirit that exuded life and energy, and filled you with a warmth that melted concern away. And that was just on the nights he didn’t pitch.

Every fifth day you were treated to a level of talent and competitive fire that warranted naming the whole day after him, every one of those starts an event in every sense of the word, from start to finish.

Baseball fans have been robbed of years of all that, and that’s there as well. Delayed pain, pushed to the back burner by the weight of human sorrow and suffering of the actual loss. But the knowledge that that is coming, be it in days or weeks or months, is certain. That certain knowledge certainly isn’t comforting.

Baseball will hurt for awhile, which hurts for those of us that look to our Marlins games to forget the hurt in our own lives. Even the Fall Classic will likely feel emptier this year. My best advice is to embrace what to my mind is the greatest legacy of Jose Fernandez, one of far more import than the strikeouts or wins at home.

That would be his every moment of every day sheer celebration of life.

It’s a lesson to everyone, and if I had to guess, it’s what Jose would most want to be remembered for.

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