The Healing Power of Baseball
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that Jose Fernandez had been taken from his family so quickly. It wasn’t fair that Fernandez’s unborn child would never know his or her father. It wasn’t fair that his teammates were burdened with taking the field without their brother.
Roughly thirty-six hours after Marlins players had learned that their teammate and friend had passed in a boating accident, they had no choice but to find a way to play baseball.
The game could not and would not take away the pain, but it could play a role in the healing.
Before the contest began, the entire Marlins’ roster, all wearing Fernandez’s number 16, circled the mound where the former Rookie of the Year had been so spectacular and so effervescent. Tears were shed in Fernandez’s memory and honor, with full knowledge that the game must go on.
Miami’s lead-off man Dee Gordon did more than don Fernandez’s number. The left-handed hitter was wearing the fallen pitcher’s batting helmet when he took Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon’s first pitch for a ball from the right side of the plate. Gordon exchanged Fernandez’s helmet for his own and moved to his customary spot in the left-handed batter’s box.
To paraphrase Vin Scully, the news had been impossible, but what followed was improbable.
Gordon lined Colon’s third offering into the right field seats for a home run, his first of the season. Gordon openly wept on a trek around the bases that had fans on their feet and Marlins players pounding on the dugout railing in approval and celebration, as Fernandez had done on a Giancarlo Stanton blast once upon a time.
The decibels grew as Gordon rounded third and moved the final 90 feet toward home. After Gordon’s foot lightly connected with the plate to tally the game’s first run, last year’s National League batting champion was embraced by one teammate. Then two. Overwhelmed with emotion, Gordon was finally greeted by the entire team at the dugout steps as the crowd grew louder still, perhaps realizing with each passing moment that they had just witnessed something that they would be telling their grandchildren about — the memory of Jose Fernandez.
On a different scale, Gordon’s homer was reminiscent of Mike Piazza’s cathartic, post-9/11 homer in September of 2001.
Trite as it may sound, baseball once again displayed its power to heal.
After Miami jumped to an early 5-0 lead, Mets beat writer Anthony DiComo took to Twitter to paint that very picture.
The ballpark is loud and raw and as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it. People are cheering and people are crying.
Baseball cannot stop the pain. That will only happen with time. But baseball can honor and remember and provide an outlet for release, as it had in the Bronx with Bobby Murcer’s game-winning hit in the Yankees’ first game following the death of Thurman Munson in 1979, in Flushing 15 years ago and in Miami on Monday night.
Jose Fernandez will not be forgotten by the Marlins, but baseball will never forget a swing of the bat that represented the first attempt to dress the wound.