Making sense of Jose Fernandez's tragic death

·MLB columnist

Somebody began today without a son. Somebody began today without a grandson, a friend, a mentor, a role model, an inspiration. A young man has died, just 24, one we knew or knew of, who seemed the best kind of man, who was only just getting started.

Somebody began today grieving, maybe too many somebodies to count, and asking how this could be, that Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez could be gone.

Somebody began today without that light.

Only a few days ago he presented a photo of a woman who was his girlfriend. Her name is Carla. She held her swollen belly. He wrote, “I’m so glad you came into my life. I’m ready for where this journey is gonna take us together.” He concluded, “#familyfirst.”

So another somebody, a daughter, who has not yet begun to mourn.

Jose Fernandez
Jose Fernandez is gone far too soon at the age of 24. (Getty Images)

Three men died in a boat crash early Sunday morning in the waters off Miami. One, we knew or knew of. He wore the uniform. He threw the fastballs. He won the baseball games. More, so much more, he was the journey. He was the man who said, “Yes, this is all possible,” and “Can you believe it?”

So he could be great at what he did and kind to those he knew, along with many he did not. He could play the game hard and love the game harder. He could smile and laugh, man could he smile and laugh, and so this is the day we all are somebody who began without that light.

We ask, what now? What next? Where does the journey lead?

It leads to today. To a darkened ballpark. To a family that cannot fix this. To a story, a life, three lives even, left undone.

This, you may guess, is why Jose Fernandez was who he was, why he became the man he did and was becoming the man he would be. Why he fled Cuba four times. Why he chased a forbidden life across the sea, how he pulled his own mother from that sea when he was only 15, why they did not – could not – turn back. This is why he fell into his grandmother’s arms years later, and why they cried together upon their reunion. This is why he had to be better, had to be great, why it couldn’t be any other way. This is why he could hardly seem to let a day go without looking it deep into its eyes and pulling it close, because that’s the journey. The first step, you know. But not the last.

“That little kid,” Don Mattingly said at the press conference Sunday in Miami. “I see such a little boy … with the way he played. There’s just joy with the way he played … When you watch kids play Little League, that’s the joy Jose played with. … That’s what I think about.”

Mattingly’s face twisted in pain. He was surrounded by Marlins players, standing and staring blankly into a world without their friend. Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill sobbed.

“His memory,” team president David Samson had said, “will endure in all of us.”

North, in Pittsburgh, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, “If you use your eyes and ears, there’s reminders throughout your week that life’s short and you don’t call all the shots. A sense of gratitude and a sense of joy needs to be more prevalent. … It’s just sad. It’s so horribly sad on so many different levels that there’ll be no more of that, there’ll be no more of him, there’ll be no more of that emotion on the mound, that skill set, that human being, that young man with such a gift, such a great smile. … Be where your feet are. Enjoy the moment. There’ll be a day where there won’t be another day.”

That’s the day they will kneel at a pitcher’s mound in Miami and they will weep. They will quiet ballparks across the country. They will hang his number – 16 – in places that let them feel him close again. They will cry for themselves, for their loss, and then for his mother Maritza, his grandmother Olga, his step-father Ramon, and for Carla, and then for what might have come – what should have come – for Jose Fernandez.

Amid the grief, somebody began today inspired to begin his own journey. We await that light too.