As I begin writing this, it’s been a little over 24 hours since I woke up to the news that shattered my heart and I’m still nowhere close to healing.
Blindly reaching for my phone in an effort to check the time and make sure I didn’t sleep through NFL kickoff without perfecting my fantasy lineups, I was surprised to have so many notifications. The one at the top was from MLB At Bat and said something about Jose Fernandez. I didn’t think much of it and continued to scroll. When I got to the bottom, I saw the “BREAKING” headline and the word “dead” next to the name of my favorite player.
For hours I laid in my bed, reading articles and watching videos that brought tears to my eyes. I still wasn’t convinced that it was real. I must have been having some kind of nightmare, right? There’s no way the best young pitcher in baseball is really dead.
But he was, and the baseball community was in shambles.
I texted my best friend and got no response, so I texted his girlfriend to see if he was awake. He called me back from her phone and I knew I was going to have to tell him what had happened.
“Dude, did you hear the news…?”
“Nah, what happened?”
“Um…Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident early this morning.”
I could barely muster the strength to say the words. Choking back tears and not knowing how to continue the conversation, I muttered, “The Marlins pitcher…he’s dead.”
“…I’m going to go back to sleep and pretend this conversation never happened.”
“Alright, man. Sorry to ruin your morning like that but I had to tell you.”
By now, you all have read the stories and the tributes. You all have watched the highlights and the reactions. You all have posted your feelings and your condolences. And that gif. Oh, that gif.
Everybody has seen it. Giancarlo hits one of his 700-foot bombs, camera pans to Jose in the dugout going absolute apeshit. That was just about the only thing that forced a smile out of me yesterday. That is how I’m going to remember Jose Fernandez. He was a jubilant child who loved the game of baseball more than most people could ever love anything. And it was so much fun to watch.
One of the hardest parts of the whole situation was appropriately conveying my emotions, especially to non-baseball fans. There’s only so much you can say over text message and it’s even harder when the person on the receiving end doesn’t comprehend the level of devastation that comes with the loss.
As I exchanged messages with other friends who share my love for baseball, it all started to seem so real. The numbness started to fade and I realized that I was living the nightmare.
“I totally didn’t cry in the shower,” said one friend. He totally did.
“I was crying while I was at my game today,” said another friend and fellow pitcher.
“All these videos. I can’t watch anymore,” texted a third.
You see, to baseball outsiders, Jose Fernandez is just a baseball player who lost his life. Aside from that, his name means nothing. It’s the sad but true reality of human nature – thousands and thousands of people die every day but we react differently to some based on relationship and circumstance. My relationship with Jose Fernandez is far different from that of someone who doesn’t care for baseball.
I almost felt silly telling people that my entire day was essentially ruined. I felt even sillier telling them that I cried when I heard the news. Rather than wondering why I associate myself with people who don’t watch baseball, I tried to come up with ways I could give them a genuine look at Jose’s life and a better understanding as to why I was so torn up.
The unfortunate reality is that I could not. I was just very sad and they were going to have to deal with my mood or continue their day elsewhere. The best I could do is recommend that they take a look at social media and see what the Olneys and Passans of the baseball world had to say.
A simple “I’m sorry” was not enough. I couldn’t respond with an “it’s okay” or an “I’ll be alright” because it’s not and I won’t. They wouldn’t understand.
I could sit here and repeat stories I’ve heard about Jose’s life on the diamond and off but those are already all over social media and there are far more articulate writers than myself who have written and shared those stories. After all, I’m just a kid with some thoughts that I wanted to put into words on my laptop.
Jose was more than a pitcher. He was the best kind of person the world has to offer. He loved his family. He loved his friends. He loved his teammates. He loved his job. He loved his fans. He loved his adopted country. And, most importantly, he loved his life and made the lives of others exponentially better.
My heart crumbled when I watched the video of Jose reuniting with his grandmother. What remained was ripped out of my chest when I saw one of his most recent Instagram posts – the announcement that his girlfriend was pregnant with their child. It included in the caption, “I’m ready for where this journey is gonna take us together.” More tears.
I threw my first perfect game on MLB the Show with Jose Fernandez. I struck out half the batters I faced with his insanely filthy slider. Or is it a curveball? Whatever it is, there were many times that the break of the pitch and the batter’s consequential reaction made me laugh out loud.
But this isn’t about me. As Andy McKay, Director of Player Development for the Seattle Mariners, so eloquently put it on Twitter yesterday, “For the 1st time ever, there are 29 MLB teams wishing they could face Jose Fernandez tomorrow.” That one hit hard.
Jose was more than the stats. Sure, his 11.2 K/9 is incredible. Yes, his career 2.58 ERA is one for the record books. He was almost surely poised for a Hall of Fame career and multiple Cy Young awards along the way. But it was his passion for the game of baseball, his flamboyant personality, and his genuinely kind heart for which he will be remembered.
As I stated already, many writers far superior to me have shared their thoughts on the matter. One of my favorite posts is by Jonah Keri, who wrote about why we mourn for the loss of people we don’t personally know. I never met Jose. I never saw him pitch. And yet, his death brought me a great deal of sadness.
We experienced this a couple years ago with Oscar Taveras. I vaguely remember the same with Darryl Kile, though I was only seven years old and, to me, every professional baseball player was an old guy. This one hits much closer to home, as did the death of Taveras. Both of them were born just two years before me and now they’re both gone, leaving us wondering what could have been.
The past couple days have been very tough. I’ve shed more tears than I’m willing to admit. I’ve wondered why things like this happen. I’ve uttered more expletives and broken the third commandment far more than any Catholic boy should, and it’s all because some guy I never met tragically lost his life.
To my friends who seemed a bit bewildered when I told them how upset I was about the passing of Jose Fernandez, there’s so much more than that. Baseball is a family and we lost one of our brothers.
But as we mourn the loss of one of baseball’s brightest young stars, we must be sure to appreciate what we had. In Jose’s case, we got to watch a kid have the time of his life playing the game he fled his native country to play, and that enough is reason to smile.