In September of 2001, the Seattle Mariners were nearing the finish line in what would become a record-tying 116 win season, and as a young, bright-eyed baseball fan in Washington State, I was enjoying every second of it.
During breakfast I would gobble up the newspaper box score (no smart phones back then, kids) like it was Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Around the fraternity table there would be a daily discussion on the sheer epic nature of what we were witnessing. The crafty southpaw Jamie Moyer threw another gem. Edgar Martinez with another clutch double. Japanese “rookie” sensation Ichiro Suzuki made another amazing play. The hits kept on coming that season and never seemed to let up.
The Mariners, a team who had only been to the playoffs three times in their (up to that point) 24 year history and had never reached the World Series, were going to win a championship.
Then, 9/11 happened, and everything in baseball, everything in the world, ground to a halt.
Baseball would start back up again, but it would never be the same for the Mariners. Whatever momentum they had built up through six months of the regular season had abated, and though they were able to slide past a good Cleveland Indians team in the ALDS, they ran into the Yankees dynasty buzzsaw and were defeated in five. They have not been to the playoffs since.
I firmly believe to this day that if 9/11 had not occurred, the Mariners would’ve won a title that year.
For the Marlins, the balloon had started to deflate before this past Sunday. Injuries had racked up, the depth was sorely tested and only the struggles of the other teams in the NL wildcard race kept them within hailing distance.
With José Fernàndez’s passing, the balloon popped completely. There are three games left in the regular season, but for the Marlins, it might as well have ended Sunday morning.
Baseball, as with all sports, can be one of life’s great welcome distractions. If you’re having a tough day at work, flipping on the game when you get home and getting lost in the action is proven therapy. We come to the game not only to enjoy it for it’s own sake but to forget about whatever else is bothering us in the outside world. With the proliferation of fantasy sports and around the clock coverage, it’s easier than ever to make baseball a part of your daily ritual.
Sometimes, as with 9/11, the outside world comes charging in and baseball simply can’t ignore it. Other times, a part of the baseball world comes crashing down, and things can’t help but be different.
José’s friends, family and teammates are gathered today on the off-day to say their final goodbyes to a great man. Then, this day will be over, and many of us will be left with thinking about what could’ve been. We will never see José throw a perfect game. We will never see José raise a championship trophy. We have been robbed of a career’s worth of highlights and gifs, moments both heart-lifting and heart-wrenching, and nothing we can say or do will give us the chance to have him back.
Nobody wants to really move forward without him, but that’s exactly what the Marlins are tasked to do, and how they go about it will shape the destiny of the franchise.
The next three games are irrelevant, but then comes the off-season with it’s evaluations, bandying numbers back and forth with free agents and their representatives, and finally, training together for the upcoming 2017 season. The Marlins have the tall but not impossible task of adding pieces to this club to make it competitive going forward.
You don’t replace José Fernàndez, the man or the baseball player, forget about that. Re-signing Martin Prado was a good start, but if Loria and company are serious about supporting the remaining players on this club and serious in their desire to bring another title to Miami, then they will see an immediate need to surround the core of the franchise with as much talent as dollars and willingness allows.
Rest assured, there will be plenty of discussion regarding that on Fish Stripes in the days and months to come. Today, however, is not the day to delve too deeply into it. Baseball will once again become that welcome distraction for Miami Marlins fans, perhaps sooner than you think.
Just not today.