Continuing the week’s theme of discussing Jose Fernandez related news allow me to share my experience of the game that took a place a little over a year ago on Sept. 26th, 2016.
There are certain moments in life where people aren’t ever going to forget where they were on any given day throughout history. For some it may be a no-hitter, 500th HR, All Star Game or the Home Run Derby. For me, that day is Sept. 26, 2017, the day following the untimely death of the then Marlins ace José Fernández. For a moment lets set aside the circumstances in which he lost his life along with two other young gentlemen, which at that time were not yet known.
I, along with 26,932 other people, attended a game in what was almost José’s baseball wake. Although his body may not have been present, there was a wave of emotion over the crowd that night. Every fifth day when Jose took the mound it was known as “José Day”, strictly dedicated to him, attendance would be larger than normal and the stadium felt electric as if his next moment on the mound would be the greatest pitching performance ever.
However, the emotion on the 26th wasn’t that electric feeling the community had grown used to, instead it was the emotion of a fallen symbol; of an angel had fallen from the sky, his wings clipped off. The community’s hero was human after all, no matter how large his personality appeared.
From those first few seconds of silence, you could not only see but also feel the emotions with which the team was playing with. That heart-wrenching rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the organization and city alike mourning one of their own. A sea of black jerseys with “Fernández” on the back would mark the last time we saw no. 16 on the field; not the same, but he was there in spirit. Players surrounded the mound, which was once his stage, and sort of patted José one last time, before the game began the Mets and the Marlins embraced in what was a powerful display of unity. This was bigger than baseball, this was a moment to mourn but they had to play a game.
After Adam Conley got the Mets out in the first, Dee Gordon stepped up to bat in a batting stance all too familiar...to the point that, had his absence not been so painfully obvious, you might not have noticed it was Dee and not José. After taking a Bartolo Colon fastball for a ball, he switched sides and launched a 2-0 fastball into the right field seats. In that moment the stadium was silent and the ball seemed to fly as if it were never going to land. This all seemed like a scene from “Angels in the Outfield” but it wasn’t, it was real. I was sitting maybe 15 or 16 rows above the Marlins dugout, as Gordon began to round the bases I tried to fight back tears, but as he came around second you could see him crying for his friend. The team came to the top step and embraced him for they were all going through the same thing.
The game continued like usual, how it always does. The Marlins poured onto the Mets and beat them 7 – 3. Unlike every other game this one was played in silence, no walk-up music, no advertisements, no fan interactive games, we were all just focused on the field and in honoring the player we had just lost only 36 hours ago. It was about as pure a baseball game if there ever was.
Similar to how little league baseball games are played without music or advertisements but only with the background of parents and family members cheering their kid on, Miami cheered on their team after we lost our Niño. Although he was 24 years old he played with the passion and energy only seen in little league games here in the states or more commonly seen in baseball through Latin America.
Although we could never know for sure I’d like to think this was the sendoff he would’ve wanted. Surrounded by his teammates, his family, his community, and the city he so very much loved. On the 26th of September I saw two teams come together to honor one player, I saw strangers mourn a man who felt like family, his loss devastated a community, derailed an organization, and left an imprint throughout the MLB.
After the toxicology reports were made public we discovered he was human just like us, he erred just like us, he had his faults and cracks in his armor. Miami and the Cuban community lost their prodigal son to the ocean that brought him to us, he was human after but on the mound there was no player as otherworldly as José Fernández.
With more talent, passion, and charisma in his little finger than most players in the league he captivated millions. And for one moment on Sept. 26th, we were able to live that magic one last time courtesy of Dee Gordon and the Marlins.