I couldn’t stop watching Nebraska’s tribute to punter Sam Foltz, who passed away in a car accident in July.
As the Cornhuskers faced Fresno State and prepared to punt, they ran out onto the field without a punter to honor Foltz. Then, Joe Beninati explained that this was "a poignant reminder of how fragile life could be."
Maybe I was drawn into the moment. As writers and fans, we often are attracted to things happening at a specific moment in time. Maybe I was drawn into the Beninati’s call, which gave me chills. Maybe I was intrigued by the situation.
Nonetheless, I watched the clip seven times. I was interested and couldn’t imagine what Foltz’s family, his teammates and the university were going through. But now, most of the city of Miami might be able to relate.
Early Sunday morning, Marlins starter Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident. He was 24.
While the news was first released early Sunday, it seemingly took a while for South Florida to react. Surprised. Shocked. Scared.
Since he first joined the Marlins organization, Fernandez proved to be a bright spot for a club that at times isn’t taken seriously across the Major League Baseball landscape. Fernandez fled Cuba in 2008, played high school baseball in Tampa and was selected by the Marlins in the first round of the 2011 draft.
In every way, Fernandez exemplified the American Dream. He fled his country, had success as a child, was drafted and quickly progressed through Miami’s minor league system and emerged as the face of the Miami Marlins.
He was able to pitch in one of the United States’ most diverse communities and related to it. Everyone wanted to meet Jose Fernandez. Everyone wanted Jose Fernandez’s autograph. Everyone wanted to see Jose Fernandez pitch. "Jose Day" has been a trademark of Miami Marlins baseball for the last three seasons.
The community rallied around Fernandez because he gave it hope. And for baseball fans in Miami, he provided a spark. Even if the Marlins weren’t in contention—which wasn’t the case this season—people were talking about Jose Fernandez.
On the field, Fernandez was everything you could want from a first-round draft pick. He was an All-Star, an ace and a motivational and energetic presence in the clubhouse, so much so that one Marlins official told Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald that Fernandez was "the heartbeat of our team."
Dee Gordon was crying as he entered the ballpark, according to Spencer. Giancarlo Stanton and A.J. Ramos entered "with their heads lowered," per Spencer.
Regardless of whether you support the Marlins or believe Miami is a baseball town or have issues with the organization’s front office, you knew Jose Fernandez. Directly or indirectly, everyone knew Jose Fernandez.
And so here we are, on Sunday, September 25, 2016, just more than a week after Nebraska honored its punter, honoring and remembering the life of Jose Fernandez.
It reminds us that at times, life could be cold and dark, tragic and heartbreaking. It reminds us that nothing lasts forever, that Fernandez, a bright light of hope and opportunity who proved to kids and adults alike that this journey is bearable, is gone.
Jose Fernandez was more than a baseball player. He was a hero. Whether you support the Marlins, baseball or the South Florida community, everyone is honoring Jose Fernandez today. Everyone has met a Jose Fernandez.