Two days after the world learned of the tragic death of Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez, I can still barely believe it. Watching the footage from last night in Miami brought tears to my eyes, and I'm a Mets fan still paralyzed with the fear they'll miss the playoffs. Last night, I really didn't care about where the Mets were in the standings though, because last night was not about them. It seemed that the entire world, not just baseball's sphere, was grieving with them. Sports sometimes can seem like a fantasy world where a person's humanity almost seems secondary, but Jose Fernandez's horrific passing reminds us that while sports are an escape in many instances, life finds a way to remind us the bubble can pop at anytime.
I only watched Jose Fernandez pitch a few times on TV, and I'm no baseball scout, but watching him pitch felt like an occasion and must see TV. While I was terrified as a fan anytime the Mets played against Fernandez, my ears always perked up when I found out he was starting, because I'd get to watch him pitch. Jose Fernandez loved baseball, loved pitching and loved life, and even when he had nights where he wasn't himself, his joy of being on the mound was good enough to transcend performances and the situation his team was in. When he needed Tommy John surgery a few years back, it felt almost funereal because baseball was robbed of his electric stuff and his joy for over a year. Baseball celebrated his return like few others, even though Tommy John surgery became a far too common phrase in the news while Fernandez was on the shelf. Knowing now that we'll never see Fernandez pitch again is heartbreaking, not just because a life that had so much potential was taken far too soon, but because so few capture the imagination and minds of fans and the baseball world alike as Fernandez did.
When it seems the world is being inundated with negative and bad news (as is happening right now), sports can, for some people, become an escape from that world and attempt to bind the wounds of division that the "real world" opens up. But with the anthem protests and now this horrible tragedy, life reminds us all the sports bubble can pop incredibly easily. Sometimes, we all forget that the athletes playing the games we love so much and the people in the front offices making personnel and other decisions are human beings too, and they have emotions and life stories like those watching from the couch or the bar. Watching the Marlins grieve the way they did is so heartbreaking that even non-baseball fans can't hold back the tears. Watching Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez not be able to contain their emotions opening the Phillies-Mets game on Sunday after the news broke reminds us that the delicate human experience transcends all boundaries, even sports.
There are so many aspects of Fernandez's human story beyond baseball that are worth expanding upon: from his multiple attempts to flee Cuba, to unknowingly saving his mother after she went overboard on a ship leaving the island, to becoming an incredibly successful refugee and his immense pride in becoming an American citizen, etc. All of them have been drawn and touched upon multiple times in the days after his death, but there is one aspect of his story that I feel supersedes all of them, including the not-nearly talked about enough refugee angle: his boundless enthusiasm and joy in life.
It's hard to see GIF's now of Fernandez's celebrations of home runs, pitches, etc. because that passion is sorely lacking in the broader world right now. He was a man who was incredibly fortunate and successful, and made sure to enjoy every moment of life as if it was his last. Life is often difficult and challenging, and seeing a smile as big as Fernandez's on bad days could almost singlehandedly erase some of the negativity that swirled. If more people showed that joy in life even if they're not incredibly talented athletes, wouldn't life be less of an exercise sometimes? Even just a little bit?
Many other people have more enlightening and personal stories about Jose Fernandez than I do, and they're likely to be better arbiters on his life than I am. But embracing his life and the joy and happiness he showed every day in life can hopefully remind everyone that even in ridiculously tough times, we all find a way to overcome and move on to find joy in what truly makes life great, whatever your passion is.
Jose Fernandez lived the American Dream, his passion and his drive through baseball. What we need to do to honor his memory is live our passions and enjoy life with the same enthusiasm, verve and joy that he did. That will be the best way to honor his memory and the impact he left on baseball and the world.
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