What does it take to speak to the spirit of a man you’ve never met?
How ridiculous, futile, and almost juvenile does it seem to connect with a dead baseball player? To laugh every time the Marlins Monkey pies someone in the face or at every Justin Bour doughnut joke? To jump up and down when Giancarlo Stanton hits (and continues to hit) homer after homer, or when Edinson Volquez threw the no hitter?
All of it passed with a bitter taste. Despite the end result, this was a fun season of baseball for the Marlins, but it felt like the first Christmas without the person that most personifies your family.
I never met Jose Fernandez. I never even got the privilege to watch him pitch in person. He is a figure for me, but one that has resonated more for me than any other athlete. When I heard the news about José’s death, I felt connected to the fans of the late Roberto Clemente. It was numbing to suddenly feel that void, to know the pain that his family was feeling.
Throughout the day, I caught myself remembering the greatest moments courtesy of José — the ones that occurred off of the mound. The story of his three attempts at defection from Cuba all followed by a prison sentence, arriving in Mexico in 2007 after saving his mother from drowning, his meteoric rise to become the 14th overall draft pick, reuniting with his grandmother after six years apart, becoming a US citizen, and finding out he was to be a father.
Looking back now, it seems like a modern day epic.
José’s journey, beginning and ending in the sea, made us constantly remember the joy in the small moments. Not just the accolades, awards, or victories, but being a part of a brotherhood united in a struggle for something greater. Beyond just toeing the rubber every five days, Jose was a light in the Marlins clubhouse. It was evident in the game following his death when emotions were so visibly raw.
Whether you were a Marlins fan or not, you couldn’t help but smile when you saw his excitement for the game. He was grateful for being able to live his dream.
One of my favorite photos in all of baseball was of José after he had pitched a winning game at Dodger Stadium. It was fireworks night, and he had taken a chair, set it out on the grass with the rest of the fans, and looked up at the sky. He was just like any other kid in the ballpark that night, and it perfectly exemplified his palpable joy for the game of baseball.
Fernández should be a continuous reminder to us all that opportunities are impermanent and fleeting. They should be pursued with full force, passion and joy because that’s what we’ll be remembered for.