My phone buzzed early Sunday morning. A long chime followed by two short ones — signifying an alert from MLB.com. When my eyes cleared, my heart sank: “We are stunned and devastated by the tragic death of Marlins José Fernández, 24, in a boating accident.”
Fernández was a passenger in a boat early Sunday morning when the boat ran ashore, killing Fernández and two other passengers. Although the investigation is ongoing, authorities are adamant that they don’t believe drugs or alcohol were involved. The Marlins cancelled their Sunday game against the Atlanta Braves.
Known equally for his blistering fastball and jubilant approach to the nation’s pastime, Fernández was expected to be a beloved figure in the baseball world for years to come. His sudden death ripped through the ranks of players and fans alike on Sunday, leaving many to consider whether it was appropriate to play a simple game in a time of such tragedy. Fourteen of the 15 games scheduled around the league were played. During pregame ceremonies around the league, however, Fernández jerseys were hung in dugouts, hugs were passed around, shoulders were cried on, and the number 16 — José’s number — was drawn in the dirt of pitcher’s mounds.
After taking a day to grieve, the Marlins had to resume their season on Monday — a game which Fernández was scheduled to pitch. The team announced that every member of the Marlins would wear a Fernández No. 16 jersey — a number which the organization will now retire. Before the game, the Marlins held a long ceremony to honor their fallen friend and teammate. Every member of the New York Mets came onto the field to embraces the Marlins.
There was, however, still a game to be played. After Adam Conley — pitching in place of Fernández — held the Mets scoreless in the top of the first, Dee Gordon stepped to the plate to start the Marlins’ half of the inning. Gordon, naturally a left-handed batter, took the first pitch of the game from the right-handed batter’s box, wearing his late friend’s batting helmet. Then, he switched boxes, and blasted a homerun over the right-field fence — his first homerun of the season — and sobbed while rounding the bases.
By the time Gordon reached home, even Mets catcher Travis D’Arnaud had tears running down his face. The cameras panned to the Miami dugout as Gordon returned, and we watched the shoulders of 40 grown men heave, as they embraced and mourned the loss of their young friend.
Then, the Marlins honored Fernández the best way that they could — they played baseball. The played the game with joy and passion — something Fernández did better than any other player. Even sitting on my couch at home, it was evident that baseball was the ultimate lifeline for these men. They weren’t just playing a simple game — they were honoring their brother, and starting to heal, little by little.