Tribute to José Fernández: One Fan's Perspective
That smile says it all. José Fernández was much more than a baseball player; he was an embodiment of all the good things in life. Someone who possessed a once-in-a-lifetime talent but understood that talent did not define him. In fact, he brought so much more to the table.
It is often said that your experiences help define who you become. In the case of José Fernández, I would argue that not to be the case. His infectious innocence about life - something that never wavered despite the overwhelming amount of adversity he faced - was the reason he made it through obstacles many of us will never know. We have all heard his unbelievable story by now: Born on the communist island of Cuba; failed to escape multiple times; finally does so successfully, but not before diving into the ocean to save his own mother from drowning. Moreover, he comes to the United States and learns to throw a baseball like few have before him, gets drafted by the Miami Marlins in the first round out of high school, and the rest is history.
Fernández had only been a part of Major League Baseball for four years. The fact that he has left behind an impossible-to-fill void speaks volumes to the impact he's had on the game and the city of Miami in such a short period of time. Really, it is unprecedented. While Giancarlo Stanton might be the face of the Marlins franchise, Fernández was most certainly the heart. Every time he was slated to pitch, it was 'José day' in South Florida. No one put more fans in the seats than him. Why was he so popular? Maybe Eduardo Perez said it best: The Cuban people took pride in his success because he represented them so proudly. But Fernández's star was not limited to the confines of the Florida peninsula; it infiltrated all of Major League Baseball and its stakeholders - fans of rival teams included. That is where my perspective comes in.
As a huge Mets fan from New York, it was easy to dislike José Fernández the player. Not only was he dominant, but he always had a flare to his game that could rub you the wrong way. It was one of those things where deep down, and most fans would admit to this, you knew it was just him having fun, but because it came at the expense of your team, you tried to make it seem personal. It wasn't though, at all. I looked forward to his matchups against the Mets because he looked like a video game out there. High 90's heat with a cartoonish slider. It was unbelievable. But more so, that very flare that could naturally irritate you was so refreshing to see at the same time. One of the best pitchers in the game truly saw his profession as just that - a game. How could you not love it? The way he rooted for the success of his teammates, whether or not he was having a good day himself, was something that is not common at the major league level. When I received the news of his death on Sunday morning, like so many, it was a shock to my heart. It is a feeling that will stick around for a while. When he passed, I didn't think of José the baseball player, I thought of his genuine excitement about life. I thought of him yelling to himself on the mound. I thought of him cheering on his teammates from the dugout. I thought of a 24-year-old kid with his entire life in front of him. I thought of the baby he has on the way. I thought of his smile.
Although many would say José's final game was last Saturday against the Atlanta Braves, no one can tell me he wasn't in the park on Monday night when Dee Gordon - Fernández's former teammate and good friend - led off the bottom of the first with a home run. It was almost like José was communicating through baseball, saying, 'I'm here, and I'll be looking down on you from time to time.' But no longer will Fernández be taking the mound in the world we see. No. Now, he suits up for heaven's team. I'd like to think he's right there with all the games' greats who have passed on.
The count is 0-2. José receives the return throw with that famed smile. We all know what's coming next. Like I said, that smile says it all.
#16, you will forever be missed.