It’s now been more than two days since we got the news about Jose Fernandez. Even after reading the news stories, and even after watching the Marlins return to the field last night, it hasn’t completely sunk in. Every time I see a headline about Jose’s death or see or hear him referred to in the past tense, it’s a shock.
As a Marlins fan, and as someone who writes and thinks a lot about baseball and watches a lot of baseball, the news left me stunned. Much has already been written about Jose’s on-the-field accomplishments, his infectious enthusiasm and what he meant to his family, friends, teammates and fans, and to all of Miami. To imagine the depth of the grief felt by all those he touched is staggering.
Last night’s pre-game tribute and the game itself offered a glimpse into that grief, and I cannot recall ever being so moved by a baseball game. I was struck by the composure and resolve shown by both the Marlins and the Mets in the top of the first, even as they were visibly dealing with devastating sadness and shock. I couldn’t help wondering how they were going to get through this game. When Dee Gordon led off the Marlins’ half of the first by ripping Bartolo Colon’s third pitch of the night into the upper deck, the game took on an even more surreal quality. It was at that point my wife said, “Jose’s there with them.”
“Jose Days” were something to look forward to. As a fan of Jose’s, I loved to watch him pitch. I loved to see what insane things his pitches would do. His curveball was beautiful and awe-inspiring. As a fan of the Marlins, I anticipated that any game that Jose pitched was one that the team stood a good chance of winning. I actually chalked it up as a win until I was shown otherwise. Every fifth day, I had a reason to be optimistic — even cocky — about a team that won fewer than 45 percent of their games during Jose’s four years with them.
I will miss his exuberance and all the amazing things he did on the mound. I will miss the feeling of invincibility he gave me as a fan. As with the loved ones we lose in our own lives, we find ways to carry the lost with us. Jose’s mastery on the mound was such a small part of who he was, and he left us with many seeds of inspiration that we can plant and grow. The bravery he showed in his four attempts to escape Cuba is an inspiration, as was his unknowing rescue of his mother on the final, successful attempt. His pride in becoming an American citizen is an inspiration as well.
We will miss you, Jose. But we will keep you with us.