I've never considered myself a Marlins fan as they've barely been relevant during my baseball fandom, which includes the entire existence of the team. Outside of a pair of surprising World Series wins, the most recent of which was 13 years ago, they just haven't done anything to garner my interest. Part of that is a relative lack of exciting players over the last decade or so, with a guy like Giancarlo Stanton being a rare bright spot.
But then along came Jose Fernandez. Here was a pitcher that was so amazing he caused folks to pay attention to Marlins games!
However, the reason I appreciate what little time we got to enjoy his presence so much has less to do with the dominant numbers he put up and more with how he approached the game. Much has been made the last few years of baseball being "boring" or less "fun" than other major sports, and these sentiments came from both fans and players--a worrying trend.
Jose was an extremely rare find: a supremely talented player who clearly had fun being around the game. That attitude brought out great things in teammates, opponents, and perhaps most importantly, the paying customers: fans. That's no small effect when you consider how important to the sport's future it is to get kids hooked on the sport and keep the talent pipeline flowing. Even more importantly, Fernandez was a non-white player influencing fans of a sport that's increasingly had issues with the perception of whitewashing, on the field, in the dugout, and up in the front office.
Fernandez's story is one of courage and perseverance--just read his harrowing story of defection and try to prove you could live through the same. It's about talent and ambition--a guy that lived the American Dream in lifting himself up on skills and hard work. And though it proved to be too short, it's about the legacy of a pitcher who leaves the sport better than he found it, not only now, thanks to the way he raised his peers up, but in the future, when the next generations produce kids longing to be the next Jose Fernandez.
All we need to do is make sure his effect lives on in passing down stories of the superstar who played the game the way it was intended to be played: for fun.
I was gratified to see so many heartwarming stories and headlines to come out of something so horrific as his death, and several of those--each most certainly worth a read--came from the fantastic writers at Fangraphs:
- Jose Fernandez Was a Joy (Paul Swydan)
- I Can't Wait to Tell My Son About Jose Fernandez (Dave Cameron)
- Out Staff Remembers Jose Fernandez (several Fangraphs writers)
Cameron's piece really stood out to me as a nice story about why he'd like his son to know about this player the boy will never get to watch make hitters look silly.
In closing, I picked out the baseball card I'll forever associate with Fernandez as it embodies so much of what I've written above: