Given the volatile nature of emotions, it is hard to project how the Mets – and especially the Marlins – will react tonight in the first game following the death of Miami ace Jose Fernandez.
Will the Marlins be so drained and subdued they wilt under the pressure? Or, will they respond the way the Mets did on Sept. 21, 2001, in the first game in New York following the terrorist attacks? Who will be their Mike Piazza?
Will they respond the way the Yankees did, Aug. 10, 1979, when they flew to Canton for Thurman Munson’s funeral, then back to beat the Orioles on national television?
Bobby Murcer, Munson’s longtime friend, drove in the winning run in the ninth inning. Will the Marlins have their own Murcer?
Fernandez’s death was tragic, yet ironic, and as reports gradually come in, it was avoidable. Fernandez was supposed to pitch Sunday but was pushed back to Monday to face the Mets. Had his start not been changed, it is hard to imagine he would have been out in the black night, after reportedly partying, speeding into the jetty at three in the morning when he would have taken the mound in ten hours.
Then again, it is also to comprehend why the 24-year-old father-to-be, could have been so reckless at a time when he meant so much to his future child, girlfriend, teammates, and Miami’s Cuban community.
Why would he be on a speeding boat in the middle of the night, knowing there were dangerous jetties off Miami Beach?
It’s easy to call Fernandez irresponsible, and 20/20 hindsight says he was. However, when you’re a professional athlete, strong and young, there’s a sense of invincibility. However, nobody is invincible. Nobody is immune to death.
Death has its own timetable, and it doesn’t matter how young, rich or talented you might be, when it knocks on your door, you answer. Death took some athletes because of failing health. Others were taken by violence. It took others because of their own actions, such as drugs and foolish decisions.
Whatever was on Fernandez’s mind when he got onto that boat, we will never know. Certainly playing it safe wasn’t present.
What we know is Marlins Park will be overcome by emotions tonight it never experienced before and hopefully never will again. There will be a video tribute, choked up eulogies from teammates, a moment of silence. There will countless tears and invasive camera shots of Marlins’ players overcome with emotion.
Every Marlin will wear Fernandez’s No. 16 jersey, and the club said it will retire the number.
The Mets will again display a Mets jersey with Fernandez’ No. 16, a gesture Collins applauds and credits Jeff Wilpon for initiating.
“I thought it was it great,” Collins said. “I thought it was a true, genuine, heartfelt respect for what Jose meant to the game.”
By all accounts, Fernandez was a gritty competitor and a giving, humble teammate. I never knew him other than in a pack interview, but he was always gracious and humble. He came across likeable.
Mets’ hitters say Fernandez gave no quarter on the mound, that he played the game the right way. His numbers projected forward – and barring injury – had him on a path towards greatness, perhaps Cooperstown worthy.
That’s what Collins reminded his players of this afternoon.
“He epitomized what the game is about,” Collins said. “He played the game correctly. Our game is bigger than a lot of things, but it will always go on. We will play the game and play it the right way.
“We are all devastated by what happened. It tells you how short life really is. You have to press forward and get through some troubled times.”
The Mets have gone through troubled times this season, but nothing like the Marlins are going through now. It also must be remembered the Marlins are still mathematically eligible for the wild-card. If they run the table, it could be done. It would be a story for the ages.
Maybe the Marlins will be emotionally spent and fade away. Regardless of how this season plays out for them, the words of their club president, David Samson, will ironically ring true that Fernandez will remain a Marlin forever.
The enduring image of Fernandez will be of him whipping a fastball with that special arm; it will be his enduring smile we’ll never see again.
In the words of Bob Dylan, he’ll stay, “Forever Young.”
“May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.”
Staying forever young sounds appealing until you realize what is lost.
He’ll never experience a Hall of Fame career, but that’s not tragic. The tragedy is he’ll never look into the eyes of his girlfriend and unborn child and tell them he loves them more than anything, including baseball.
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