The sudden and tragic death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez on Sunday has impacted me more than I expected for someone I never knew.
I realize there are plenty of reasons for this: He was young and full of joy; he was a Cuban-American who looked like me and my family; he was an elite athlete destined for greatness; he left a loving mother, abuela, girlfriend, and unborn child. And now he’s gone.
This enthusiasm has been extinguished:
What a gift, to be capable of such unbridled happiness.
There have been plenty of touching tributes to Fernandez these past two days. The one linked at the top of this article is one of the best; Dave Cameron of Fangraphs explains why he hopes his son can grow up to love life as Fernandez did. I recommend it.
Another great one: Grant Brisbee at SB Nation, “Jose Fernandez was pure joy.”
The aforementioned Cameron appeared on the Fangraphs Audio podcast yesterday with host Carson Cistulli to discuss what Fernandez meant to baseball. They expressed their hope that Fernandez’ sense of joyousness represents the future of baseball, replacing the rigid “unwritten rules” culture of the game. I commented on the podcast page, but figured I’d put it up here as well:
“Great podcast, guys.
While listening, I thought of Brandon McCarthy’s poignant tweet Sunday:
We were all jealous of his talent but deep down I think we most envied the fun he had while doing something so difficult.
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) September 25, 2016
You get the feeling that there are so many players who wish they could display the enthusiasm Fernandez showed, but for any of a myriad of reasons, can’t. We often forget just how much work and strain goes into becoming a major leaguer. The sacrifices. The training. For a guy like McCarthy, the struggle coming back from injury. Baseball is special to people like McCarthy, but is it fun anymore? It’s their job, after all. The sheen must wane after a while for most.
So I think this is what made Jose special: It’s not so much that he chose to have fun playing Major League Baseball — something so hard that only a thousand people in the world are able to do it — but because we was *capable* of having fun. Something innate, not elected.
A very special case, and a ray of light far too soon extinguished.”
I want to share this tweet below, featuring what is also my favorite photo of Jose Fernandez. I think it demonstrates the incredibly likable person he was.
This is my favorite photo. I took it after he got a W vs Dodgers. He grabbed chair, watched fireworks. A big leaguer but always kid at heart pic.twitter.com/QwDzQ1sKCx
— Allison Williams (@AllisonW_Sports) September 25, 2016
Anna and I watched the Marlins/Mets game last night. If you missed it, you missed some of the most touching and beautiful human drama I’ve ever seen. Fernandez’ teammates took the field for the first time without him, on the day he was scheduled to pitch, each wearing a jersey with his name and number on the back, and won 7 to 3. Dee Gordon came up to bat in the leadoff spot, took a pitch from the right-handed box while imitating Fernandez’ batting stance, and then hit a monster home run (his first of the year) from the left-handed box. We were speechless. Gordon cried all around the bases and then bawled his way to the dugout. Within, his teammates embraced him one-by-one.
That was just one moment in a very special night. In a show of empathy and brotherhood, the Mets walked out to the middle of the field pre-game to comfort and embrace the Marlins. During the game, several of his teammates imitated Fernandez’ over-the-top dugout celebration. After the victory, the Marlins circled the pitcher’s mound arm-in-arm before leaving their hats on the rubber.
I’m going to get a little sanctimonious here for a second, and I apologize for that, but much of this was happening at the same time as the presidential debate, which I’ve not been shy about decrying as a toxic spectacle.
And it struck me that this baseball game, which was a moving display of human grieving and catharsis, could be happening at the same time that a bloodthirsty nation watched (and hate-watched) a reality show featuring two candidates who more resemble totems of societal rage than anything else. I could put more thought into what this means as a whole (I’ve toyed with an idea that Aristotle would have much preferred the baseball), but I’ll leave it at this: I’m glad I skipped the depravity of #debateculture in favor of a night of humanity.
To an Athlete Dying Young
BY A. E. HOUSMAN
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
One thought on “Thoughts on José Fernández, joy, humanity”
Are you aware of Sir Tom’s play The Invention of Love? I almost read it once and then didn’t, but it’s about A.E. Housman, so you know, if that’s of interest?
I’m sorry someone you cared about (even a famous athlete) is gone too soon, but I’m glad you’re writing about it! I always think of the end of “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop when she writes, “It’s evident / The art of losing isn’t hard to master / Though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.” Sometimes you got to write it.