Tuesday, September 27, 2016

To an athlete. Dying young.

We have all heard the news now. We have been told, by those who knew him, just who 24-year-old Jose Fernandez was, what a special talent, what a joyous individual, what a source of pride he was to the Cuban-American community in Miami, who flooded the ballpark every time he took the hill for a so-so Marlins club that has offered few other reasons to do so this season.

There is never a darkness quite like the one that follows the extinguishing of a light -- and if it is an especially bright light, it is so much the darker when it winks out. That Jose Fernandez' light winked out far too early is far too obvious; that he was a player and a man whose influence in his brief time  extended far beyond the confines of one ballpark in one American city has become obvious only in the last two days.

And so when it came time to take the field again last night, the Marlins all wore "Fernandez 16" on their backs, and gathered around a pitcher's mound with "16" spray-painted into it, and rubbed dirt on their pants the way Fernandez -- who did it because he did it as a boy back in Cuba, where there were no rosin bags -- used to do it.  There was a moment of silence. A single trumpet played "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" in mournful cadence, a baseball version of "Taps" that brought a lump to the throat of anyone with a soul.   

And then?

And then, here came the opponents, the New York Mets, sealing the reality that this was, indeed, a loss felt far beyond Miami. They came out of their dugout unprompted, hugging every Marlin they could find. For this was, indeed, bigger than a single inconsequential game. If it was Miami's loss, it was also baseball's loss. It was a loss for the human being in all of us -- not because Jose Fernandez  was an athlete, but because youthful promise lost is always a loss for all of us.

As, I believe, this guy famously said.

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