– Cruz Serrano
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom the amount of energy and passion fans dump into players, teams, and sports in general. I have laughed, cried, screamed and experienced everything in-between when watching games and matches. I have watched my favorite players go to other teams, fade into oblivion as time wore them down, and even retire on a high note, off to enjoy a lifetime with a little less spotlight. But I can honestly say that the emotions I have felt while being a sports fan has never quite struck the same chord as the news of Jose Fernandez’s passing.
I am not a Marlins fan, in fact I’m a fan of an opposing team, a rival team in the Atlanta Braves. I hated the idea of watching Fernandez carve up my beloved Braves for the next fifteen years, because that’s what it seemed like he might do. And as much as I hated the thought of it, I always made sure that I had the Braves game on when #16 was pitching for the Marlins. Not only was it hard to root against him, I would sometimes find myself rooting for him. He was electric on the mound, with an arsenal to rival any pitcher that I have had the fortune to see. And he always did it with an infectious smile. He was a kid that was happy to be where he was. He had fun every moment of every game, and made sure that everyone else knew it as well. Jose was just a great example of perseverance, and a great embodiment for Cuban Americans, which definitely was important in the Miami area. He was able to defect to America after failing three times prior. He saved his mother from drowning on his way here. He made it to the MLB (after only 27 minor league starts) at the ripe age of 19, and pitched like he belonged. And even after needing ligament replacement surgery, I can distinctly recall a huge smile strung across his face during an interview with the post-Tommy-John arm brace holding his surgically repaired elbow in place. He was everything you wanted to see in a professional athlete. He was deferential, he was damn good, and he was always out there because he loved what he was doing.
I guess it would be easy to sit here and wonder what might have been. Fernandez was on a tremendous arc, and it seemed like the sky was the limit for the Cuban right hander. Maybe he had a Cy Young or two in his future, and maybe a trip to Cooperstown even further down the line. I don’t think it’s fair to sit here and wonder about what he might have been, because then it boils down to people contemplating what they lost, rather than remembering the person himself. It would be easy to mourn Fernandez, and then let him become another footnote in sports history, a fun ‘what could have been’ with a passing moment from time to time. It would be a shame to let a man who lived so joyfully and with such exuberance be confined to the lost pages of baseball history like JR Richard or Mark Fidrych. But just as easily as he could have been great, things could have gone in a million different directions. So I think the best way to remember Jose is by simply doing just that; remembering the great personality, the great talent, and the great life he lived during his short 24 year life. It’s not every day that a talented player like Jose comes along, and it’s even rarer that he turns out to be quite probably the most joyous and infectiously happy person putting on a uniform. So for me it’s easy, I’d rather celebrate and try to remember who Jose was and what he did accomplish, rather than trying to extrapolate what might have been. Rest in peace Jose, and thank you for the smiles and laughs over the course of your short but extraordinary big league career.
– Cruz Serrano (Twitter)