It’s Hard To Process The News Of Jose Fernandez’s Death This Morning

New York Mets v Miami Marlins

It’s hard to process the news of Jose Fernandez’s death.

I went through all the stages this morning. At first, it’s denial. You want to believe that it was either an internet rumor, or some sort of misunderstanding of the news. You ask, “What?” even though you clearly heard what you were just told. It’s almost like your brain refuses to accept the words “Jose Fernandez is dead.” Dead? He can’t be dead.

Then, it’s just pure shock. Like, how could something like this happen? The first thing that came to my mind was Roberto Clemente, who was killed in a plane crash that was carrying aid to Nicaragua after an earthquake in 1972. Clemente passed away during his playing career, but he was 37 years old. Not that one death is sadder than the other, but Clemente left this earth with 3,000 hits and a Hall of Fame career already cemented. Fernandez was 24 years old with all of his best years both in the game and in life ahead of him.

I think that’s the part that is so gut-wrenching for me. This is such a young loss of life, a man who still had so much left to give to the world, his family, and to the game of baseball. He was expecting his first child, he was the pride of the country of Cuba, he was the face of the franchise down there in Miami, and he was on a one-way path to the Hall of Fame.

Five days ago, his manager, Don Mattingly, was sitting at a podium, talking about how his most recent start was the best outing he’s had all year. Now he’s gone. Now, we have to talk about Fernandez in the past tense, and I can’t even put into words how that makes me feel. It’s incredibly and devastatingly sad. It doesn’t even feel right to me to talk about a man’s performance in a game once they’ve passed, because he was much, much more than just a baseball player. As much as Fernandez loved the game of baseball, it’s clear that his family, his friends, his teammates in Miami, and those close to him aren’t devastated today because the game of baseball lost a superstar player. They’re devastated today because of the loss of a great human being.

To give some perspective on the character of Jose Fernandez, here’s the story of how he saved his mothers life at the age of 15 when he defected from Cuba.

And then he remembers the splash. He heard it one night while he was making small talk with the captain. After the splash, he heard the screams. A wave had crashed over the boat’s deck and swept Fernandez’s mother out to sea. He saw her body and before he had time to think, he jumped in. A spotlight shone on the water, and Fernandez could make out his mother thrashing in the waves about 60 feet from the boat. She could swim, but just barely, and as Fernandez pushed his way toward her, he spat out salty water with almost every stroke. Waves — “stupid big,” he says — lifted him to the sky, then dropped him back down. When he reached his mother he told her, “Grab my back, but don’t push me down. Let’s go slow, and we’ll make it.” She held his left shoulder. With his right arm — his pitching arm — he paddled. Fifteen minutes later, they reached the boat. A rope dropped, and they climbed aboard. For now, at least, they were going to be OK.

Time will pass, the game will heal, and new stars will rotate through baseball, just as they have for over a hundred years. But nobody will forget Jose Fernandez. And I think the saddest thing of all is that just one day ago, the name “Jose Fernandez” made you think of things like passion, emotion, vibrance, dominance, greatness, and even history. Today, and forever, one of those words will now be tragedy.

But my hope is that as time goes on, while the tragic end to his life cannot be forgotten or removed from his story, that we can get back to a place where when somebody says his name, the first thing we think of is that smile. He was a superstar, he was an ace, he was the face of a franchise, and a beacon of hope for an entire country. But above all that, he was a 24-year-old kid who had the time of his life playing the game of baseball, which in turn made the game more fun for everybody else. That’s how I’ll remember him. Rest in peace, Jose Fernandez.

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