The Joy and Teachings of José Fernández
No. 16, forever in our hearts.
Dee Gordon will never forget his friend, José Fernández. pic.twitter.com/sCFlNhrRMN
— MLB (@MLB) September 25, 2016
I watched this video over and over this morning. So many thoughts ran through my head. One minute it’s “why”. The next minute is “I can’t imagine what is going through Dee’s mind”. Then it’s, “of all the sports teams, baseball teams truly become family”.
From parts of February through September and maybe, if they are lucky, into October, baseball players are together. The spring training grind is repetitive – fundamental work, pitching sessions, batting sessions. It’s all the same.
Good preparation for the season when the only difference is the scenery. A 6-game homestand here, a 10-game road trip there and all the while the faces are mostly the same, day in and day out. You either embrace it and come together as a family or you manage it all as a dysfunctional one.
Either way, baseball is family.
José Fernández was part of the Miami Marlins family, but he was also a part of the Major League Baseball family. The Marlins and baseball world are mourning the loss of this young man today. Killed in a boating accident on the waters around Miami, Fernández was only 24-years old with a bright, joyful future. His girlfriend, Carla Mendoza, is pregnant with their first child – an event that Fernández was looking forward to.
I say joyful because joy is the word that many have used to describe Fernández today. “I see such a little boy in him,” said an emotional Miami Marlins manager, Don Mattingly. “There was just joy with him when he played.”
— ABC News (@ABC) September 25, 2016
Fernández would have told you that it wasn’t always joyful. After previous failed attempts at defecting from Cuba, some that resulted in jail time, Fernández finally defected in 2008 with his mother and stepsister. They made their way through Mexico to Florida where they joined his stepfather in Tampa.
I thought about that while watching the video. What his life must have been like in Cuba as a kid, going to jail, dreaming of the big leagues, wondering if life would ever be different. Baseball isn’t just a sport in Cuba. It’s life. It’s identity and Fernández wanted to be the best of himself he could be.
To be the best, you have to play with the best. Fernández knew that would be in the United States. It was his dream to play in the majors. After being drafted in 2011 by the then-Florida Marlins, Fernández got that shot in 2013. Despite a setback with Tommy John surgery in 2014 and subsequent recovery for part of the 2015 season, Fernández was still the Marlins top pitcher and one of the best young arms in the game.
There are a myriad of stories about his games. When Fernández was on, he was electric. Those days were worth writing about. He embraced them to the fullest:
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
Now that he is gone, there will be more stories like this one that will be told about the other side of Fernández:
— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) September 25, 2016
What does it say about a young man that comes to this country and embraces it as his own? I think about that now while watching the video again – where we are at in this country right now. I see a young African-American man, alone in his thoughts on the death of his teammate, a naturalized American citizen of Cuban descent.
That’s right. Fernández became an American citizen in 2015. He is…was…an American citizen as me, mi familia y mis vecinos. He was, as Yahoo’s Jeff Passan put it, “He was also the best of us, the pure, smiling embodiment of the American Dream.”
Baseball, for all of its challenges with connecting with today’s sports fan, still brought people together like no other. All races, colors, countries, ethnicities. More so than the NFL. More so than the NBA. They all came together on the baseball diamond.
Perhaps that’s why I watched that video over and over again. It reminded me of what this country can be, even what it already is in some parts of this country. There can be a joining, a union, a coming together of people if there is a common goal.
In baseball, the players on the team come together for a common goal: to win the World Series. Through that process, they have to put aside some of their own selfishness, build each other up, help one another through struggles, cheer in both small victories and large. It will either bring them together, closer to the common goal. Or, it will tear them apart.
Whatever the American dream means to you, José Fernández has to be a representation of it. No matter how you define it, he overcame obstacles and challenges in his path to reach for the dream.
As I watch the video of Dee Gordon one more time, I think about the words of Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates manager, today.
“Be where your feet are. Enjoy the moment. There’ll be a day when there won’t be another day.”
In other words, life is too short to let circumstances and challenges stop us from being in the moment. If the moments aren’t what we want out of life, then it’s time to change.
José Fernández did. For his short time on earth, he enjoyed the moment.