September 26, 2016
My nephew, Casey, called me at 9:20 yesterday morning to tell me that Jose Fernandez had died in a boating accident. It was probably the nicest thing anyone could have done for me right then. “I didn’t want you to just read it in a headline.”
Any other morning, he would have been way too late. My daily routine is to check the Marlins stories and MLB box scores before my run at 6:30, maybe 7:30 on a Sunday. But Sadie’s cold kept me up most of the night, and I slept late.
At first I thought Casey was going to tell me the Marlins were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, or made some weird-timing trade that would bum me out. Indeed, there was recent scuttlebutt about Jose possibly going to the Cubs or the Yankees. But I heard something in his voice before he uttered the words. This was not just a bummer.
I sobbed like I’d lost a close friend, even as I scoured the internet with shaking hands hoping beyond hope it was a hoax. And I pretty much didn’t recover all day.
My tears for Jose were eclipsed only by my tears for his mother, and his grandmother, affectionately known to Marlins fans as Abuela. They were at all his games. He blew them kisses from the field. You felt their love and connection as surely as batters felt Jose’s fast and breaking balls. All I can think now is that his mom is surely planning her suicide. Maritza, Abuela, my mother-heart is bleeding with you.
I didn’t know until yesterday that Jose had a girlfriend, Carla, who is pregnant with his daughter, which he announced just last week. Pile it on.
I broke the news to Wayne and Jack just before they left to go fishing. I didn’t want to ruin their day, but they were meeting baseball friends at Lake Okeechobee, and I didn’t want it sprung on them any more than Casey wanted it sprung on me.
Then I parked Sadie in front of Disney Junior in one room while I sat glued to MLB in another and sought solace with Ken Rosenthal, Harold Reynolds, Rich Waltz, and Preston Wilson, among others in the baseball world who were as devastated as I was.
It’s hard to understand if you’re not a baseball fan, I know. But this wasn’t “just” a baseball star—oh, what a star, the best among the best—cut down way too soon. Jose was a human star. A star who spent time in jail three times for trying to escape Cuba, who finally succeeded at age 15, rescuing his mother when she fell off the boat in the process. A star who took three English courses every year in high school and rejoiced in his freedom when he became an American citizen. A star who pitched with passion, played with joy, talked and frolicked—literally frolicked—with teammates, coaches, and fans until he exhausted them. A star who reached out and touched so many in the Miami community, and beyond. A star who loved baseball, and gave the game all it gave him and more. He was someone the expression “larger than life” was created for.
Jose’s passion could turn fiery, and there were times he pissed people off. But it always came around to love. Jose loved. He loved his family, he loved his baseball family, he loved fans, he loved people. He loved baseball, he loved the spotlight, he loved working hard and playing and talking and learning and improving and growing. He loved loving, and you just knew it, because he loved showing it.
He showed it to my own kids numerous times during Spring Training the past few years, and while I’m glad for the memories, it hurts that they’ll no longer grow up watching him. Jose was someone you wanted your kids watching.
Baseball inspires me in some way every day. I have a baseball sticker with #42 on my computer to inspire me to write with courage. Today, I add a baseball sticker with #16 to inspire me to write, and to live, with passion, with joy, with love.
Baseball also comforts me, and it will comfort me through this sad, terrible loss at the same time it has broken my heart. Games will be played, and life will go on. The light that went out yesterday with Jose’s star is going to be felt for a long time. But it will always leave a glow.