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JUPITER, Fla. – There’s no locker in the clubhouse. There’s no bike leaning against the gate. There’s no car in the lot. There’s no out-sized laugh from the weight room. Not anymore.
There is only permission to carry on, that granted by the page on a calendar and by the spirit through which he loved the day when it all started again. Maybe Jose Fernandez was partial to most days. Long as the sun came up and there were good folks around to share them with, but on the day the bullpens lit up with let-‘em-out-a-little fastballs and the back fields turned Marlins neon?
That’s a helluva day. That’s a day you feel for a week, for the good reasons and the reasons that’ll need to be iced, for the stories of bagged elks and weekends in Cancun and new babies, for the freshness that is being young and bulletproof, for all that forever sitting out there waiting on you, waiting on all of them.
Now he’s a tiny round number on their chests and a place to go for perspective after an oh-for-four and then one more bedtime story for the kids at the end of a day that already was too long. Some decisions are permanent, and now he is gone, and his baby girl is due to be born any day, and a baseball season is going to start without him.
“It’s gonna be all right,” Dee said. “I mean, you gotta man up. Just man up. There’s no alternative.”
He looked around a crowded locker room. Jose’s locker was just over there, he said, waving with his left hand. He’d sit on that stationary bike forever, “Two hours, it seemed,” and rag the butt of most anyone who drifted within earshot. Jose, Dee said, would want them to soldier on and have fun and win ballgames … and he stopped himself. He shook his head.
“I honestly feel like that’s a lie,” Dee said.
“Jose would not want us to keep going without him,” he said. “He’d want to be here. [Like,] ‘Don’t forget me. Wait for me.’”
That’s the honest truth. Go get ‘em boys was not Jose Fernandez as much as Follow me boys was, shoulder to shoulder, everybody pile in. That’s the man they buried going on five months ago. That he could pitch, too, was fine. That he would be one of them, forever one of them, was what made him special.
The toxicology report can say what it wants, and it is not pretty.
It does not change the outcome. The waste of it. The horror of it.
The lawsuits can stake their claims, the real world barging in on the pictures in their heads.
What happens here anyway is the gradual granting of permission – “Twenty-one of us from last year,” Gordon said – to laugh again. To make it about baseball again. To care about the meaningless stuff that becomes 21 of them plus four more, that becomes a roster in April, that becomes a baseball season, and that drives a franchise into whatever will come of it. This is what is left of them, all but one, and still they’ll have their unconscious moments waiting on him to walk in.
“It was tough,” Christian Yelich said. “It’s still tough for everybody. We got through it together then. We’ll do the same now.”
On the first day, the camera crews came early and stayed late. Giancarlo Stanton checked in on his swing in the batting cage. Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke, signed because the Marlins suddenly needed starting pitching, played catch in the outfield. Jeffrey Loria watched from a golf cart. A small crowd of people clutching glossy photos and mint cards loitered near the gate of the parking lot. Clubbies ran the washing machines. Security guards eye-balled the perimeter. Two guys assembled Ichiro’s workout equipment in a shipping crate. Several more watered the grass at the end of the day.
Normal comes fast. And it was a good, normal day. He would’ve loved that day. They’d have waited, too. All he’d had to do was ask.
“Sometimes you don’t get a second chance,” the team president said. “That’s the saddest part of this. There is no second chance.
“He wanted to win. He wanted to play. He wanted to live.”
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