In the world of Major League Baseball, beyond the usual late-season drama, September 25th, 2016 was supposed to be all about one man- Vin Scully. The broadcast icon and legendary Dodger play-by-play man since 1950 was announcing his last game at Dodger Stadium, to much well-deserved fanfare. A whole season of celebration, culminating in ceremonies and tributes over this final regular season weekend, emphasized the “sweet” part of Mr. Scully’s bittersweet departure.
Unfortunately, a tragic event has overshadowed all of that, as September 25th, 2016 will be remembered for the day Major League Baseball lost one of its best pitchers, as well as one of the most exciting players to watch. There have been plenty of people in the public who have passed this year- many of them seemingly before their time- but none nearly as young as Fernandez, nor with as many good years seemingly ahead. Death is tragic, and it’s as true as it is cliche that we spend more grief on famous people than the many, many more who we never even know exist. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing to reflect on athletes or entertainers that we admire for their talent, nor does it make the pain any less real, particularly when those people manage to give us some measure of joy in our own lives, even if THEY have no idea that most of US exist.
This brings us to Don Mattingly, whose pain is VERY real, as he speaks of Fernandez, mere hours after learning of his death- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeNDmkBYAX8. I’ve often been skeptical of those aforementioned famous people, seemingly spending as much (if not more) time on crafting their “good guy (or girl)” images, as they do on whatever it is that made them famous in the first place. Mattingly, in a similar way to Mr. Scully, has always seemed to transcend all of that, coming across as a genuine, kind-hearted person, in a way that’s rare among other humans, let alone superstars. This video seems to be another example of that. It also reflects on how much Jose Fernandez meant to him.
Mattingly is far from the only one affected so profoundly by this tragedy. As reported by Dan Arritt via ESPN, ” Yasiel Puig crumpled into his clubhouse chair and put both hands over his face after speaking with reporters about (their) close relationship.” Puig had been close friends with his fellow Cuban defector since their rookie season in 2013, when Fernandez beat him out for NL Rookie Of The Year. All over baseball, players such as David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez have expressed their grief over this shocking loss. It’s inevitable on the day someone dies, we’ll hear all kinds of great things about that person, from those that knew them the best. But for someone like Jose Fernandez, whose talent and passion was something evident even to those that didn’t know him, all those tributes become that much easier to accept as sincere.
Tying it all together, Vin Scully gave a very haunting anecdote about Fernandez, talking about how Fernandez once eerily wondered on Twitter that if someone gave the story of your life, whether or not to read the end. No one, least of all a young guy like Fernandez himself, could ever imagine that his story would end so soon, even before Vin Scully’s career did. In very different ways, the end of Mr. Scully’s incredibly long career, coinciding with the tragic end of Jose Fernandez’s short life, remind us how important it is to cherish the people and things that we value, while we have them.
I’ll end this blog entry with an attempt at a lighter note- a humorous GIF that’s made its way around the Internet, courtesy of SBNation- Jose Fernandez catching a Troy Tulowitzki line drive, coupled with Tulo’s sitcom-quality reaction of disbelief. Fernandez was as entertaining to watch as he was talented. He will be missed.