Yesterday was as an emotional wreck of a day in sports as I can ever remember. We bid farewell to the career of the legendary Vin Scully. We said goodbye to golf great Arnold Palmer. Both of those are draining in their own regard.
For me, the most shocking moment was waking up to an alert on my phone regarding a statement from the Marlins on the passing of their ace, 24-year-old Jose Fernandez. In disbelief, I checked Twitter and saw what everyone reading this post saw regarding the ace’s boat accident. 24 years old, one of the best in his sport, and a soon-to-be father. Absolutely devastating in every way.
You’ll see far better recaps in the upcoming days about the short but incredible career of Fernandez. Jose was a stud in every sense of the world; arguably the top right handed pitcher in baseball. He was the present and future of the game. I’m already kicking myself for not watching more of his starts, because every five days he trotted out to the hill and gave his best, and his best was usually greatness.
You’re also likely to see better coverage of his life outside of baseball, specifically his long road to get to not just the big leagues, but just to get to America. Fernandez defected from Cuba as a teenager after multiple unsuccessful trips and some Cuban prison time. On his final trip, he had to dive into the ocean to save his mother, who’d been washed overboard. While all of my friends and I were worried if we’d make our high school baseball team, Fernandez was trying to escape what is essentially a prison of a country, and risking his life to do so.
As a lifelong baseball fan, and a fan of the short career Jose gave us, I’ve been almost at a loss for words about this kid all day. He was truly special, and not just because of what he did with his right arm. The only thing I feel like anyone can do is to live every day like Jose Fernandez lived his. In my 18+ years as a baseball fan, I’ve been privileged to watch so many great players, but it’s hard to remember seeing someone who exuded such passion and joy like Fernandez. That guy had his moments of getting under the skin of opposing players and fans, but left zero doubt that he loved life and what he got to do every day at the ballpark.
One of the bittersweet moments that his passing brought today was the constant flow of gifs and videos throughout my Twitter feed of classic Fernandez. Not just wipeout curveballs or blazing fastballs, but of a guy jumping around enthusiastically in the dugout after a teammate’s moonshot home run. Grinning and laughing on the mound, reminding everyone watching that this isn’t a job to him, it’s a game. Even continuing to smile after his first major league home run, despite doing his part to incite a bench clearing brawl in the process.
Jose Fernandez played the child’s game with the passion of a kid. As a fan, it’s frustrating to see players who seem to take it as just another day at the ballpark or anything but a game. Fernandez was anything but that. It was a true privilege to watch him compete, not just because he was an incredible player, but because of the excitement he carried with him on and off the field. Fernandez loved baseball, clearly loved life, and loved being an American citizen. If anything, his short life was a reminder of how much we have to be happy about every day, and how thankful we should be.
I’d encourage anyone reading this to go read more about this incredible young man and the passion he brought to life. Hands down on of the most special athletes I’ve ever seen (even the times when he rubbed people the wrong way with his mound antics). As a father, I hope my child can find something to be as happy and passionate about as Jose did, and that he (and I, for that matter) can live life as joyfully as he did. As baseball fans we were so fortunate to have been given each of his 76 exuberant starts for our viewing pleasure.
If you’re the praying type, pray for his family, teammates, and especially his unborn child. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, there will be far better and more detailed works on the legacy that Jose Fernandez leaves behind. I’d recommend this three-year-old piece from Grantland to start with. Then, make an effort to live life a little more like he did, with a childlike enthusiasm and a smile on your face. Hug your loved ones and love your life, because yesterday really made everyone remember how fragile life really is..
Image via YouTube / Inside Edition