Losing a Brother
As a Chicago transplant, it's not uncommon to get questioning stares when I wear my Miami Marlins hat. If we don't have a game at Wrigley, the approved reasons for sporting the cap around the city seem to be nonexistent. Only when I answer in the affirmative as they ask "are you from Miami?" will they grant me a tentative look of approval, as well as an offer of condolences for having to root for such an organization.
Yes, the marlins have left a sour taste in the mouths of many baseball fans, most of which call south Florida home. But the one thing people don't realize, is how much fun it is to be a fan of this team. Politics aside, looking past hopeful seasons turned disappointments, I have never enjoyed rooting for a team more than I have when I watch the Miami, Florida, Marlins.
That joy grew exponentially when José Fernández was on the mound.
He was electrifying. He was dominant. He shined a light on the future of the franchise. He smiled. He made us smile.
Every fifth day was a special one. It was his day. I watch about 150 regular season games a year, and 29 of those in 2016 were started by José. José day. A day we marked on our calendars.
I use his first name without hesitation, though I acknowledge how strange that may look. I've never met him, but I feel like I know him. That was the kind of player he was. He didn't hide his passion, he wore it proudly.
Yet he was more than a player. There is a long list of heartbreaking details that make this story so damn devastating. The loss that major league baseball has endured, the loss that the marlins are suffering, the pain his fans are feeling - don't even seem to make the list.
He was the American dream. He earned the kind of freedom we often take for granted in this country, and he brought his family along on his journey. He was bringing a new life into it. A father to be, and yet when you look at how many years he spent on this planet, he seemed like a child himself.
Don Mattingly said that José reminded him of a little leaguer when he was on the field. He had so much fun that's almost all that anyone could see through his smile. But what I saw was passion. Love that little leaguers aren't capable of yet. I saw a fire that wasn't going to be extinguished, no matter what his line looked like at the end of the game.
I wish I loved anything as much as José loved baseball. But if they were handing out wishes I suppose I'd just wish that he was still with us.
As I watched the press conference on Sunday, I cried with the team I adore so much. The team that I watch despite losing seasons. Whose games I turn on regardless of what goes on in the front office. Because there's something about playing in Miami. Something infectious that makes you a part of this unique family, no matter how many faces change during the off-season.
Mattingly speaking in between sobs about the son he just lost. Prado hiding his eyes under the brim of his cap as he tried to find the words to describe losing his little brother. Gordon silently weeping for his best friend. Seeing this pain in the people I feel so close to, from April to October, twisted something in my chest that I have yet to understand. I weep as I write this. Because I don't know how else to handle it.
I never met José. But I felt like I knew him.