Co-Editor In Chief
As Dee Gordon stepped to the plate on Monday night against the New York Mets, the Miami Marlins’ second baseman had a different look about him. Gordon’s usual No. 9 jersey was nowhere to be found. Instead, the 5-foot-11 speedster was wearing the No. 16 on his back, and instead of his own surname on his back, it read “Fernandez.”
Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died on Sunday morning in a boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach. Two others passed away in the crash. On-field talent aside, the 24-year old Fernandez was the lifeline and the heartbeat of Miami’s clubhouse. His smile was contagious, and his cheers for his teammates were often the loudest noises emanating from the Miami dugout during games.
In response, Sunday’s Marlins game was cancelled. Players and staff were still grieving the loss of their fallen teammate, and the idea of playing any sort of game would be inappropriate. But Monday’s game was to be held, and fittingly so, every Marlins player wore a Fernandez No. 16 jersey – the last time the No. 16 would ever be on the back of any Marlin – as the team announced the number would be retired.
But when Gordon, the owner of just eight career home runs, squared up on a Bartolo Colon pitch with a picture-perfect architected swing to launch his first long-ball of the season outside of the park, Miami’s 1-0 lead was actually the last thing that mattered.
An emotional Gordon rounded the bases in typical fashion and stopped at home plate. As he walked back to an electrified dugout, he beat his fist on his chest two times, and pointed to the sky – to his friend, Jose. Before descending back down the dugout stairs, Gordon embraced a teammate. He collapsed into his arms as tears fell from his eyes; his full range of emotions on display in front of the entire world.
The Marlins went on to win that game 7-3. But the stats, the extra “W” in the record book and anything that happened on the playing field that night will hardly be remembered. Rather, Gordon’s emotional home run, the entire organization draped in No. 16 jerseys and the raw emotions of a grieving team.
Fernandez’ untimely passing brings to light much more than just a win and a loss. For a period of time, the focus of sports was taken off of the physical game and placed onto the human emotion, and the impact that one man can have on another.
It’s a common trend to become so wrapped into the competitive side of sports that human nature takes a back seat. When a player suffers a season-ending injury, most fans’ immediate reaction is how will it affect the wins and losses. When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem, some believed that he wasn’t talented enough to be an activist, and that his football skills should be held in a higher regard than his given rights.
This view, which I can safely assume every fan of sports has held at some point in their lives, dehumanizes athletes. When injuries and human rights are overlooked because of something as forgettable as a win or a loss, or a quarterback rating, these athletes become nothing more than characters in a television show. Once you turn off your TV, or changes the channel, the life of a professional athlete is put on hold until the next time they step onto a playing field.
That’s not the case.
But when Jose Fernandez died, and a nation of sports fans went into mourning, we saw something we rarely see in sports – empathy and understanding. A game was cancelled, and everyone understood. Players of opposing teams hung Fernandez jerseys in their dugouts.
Prior to Monday’s Mets/Marlins game, the entire Marlins roster came out to the pitching mound, where the number 16 was ingrained into the rear-side of the mound, to pay respect to their fallen teammates.
The Mets’ roster then made their way out to the mound as well, and embraced the opposing team. For a moment, a win, a loss and a playoff chase was put aside for something much more impactful. Just minutes later, Gordon launched one of the most powerful home runs in baseball history, something he referred to as the greatest moment of his life.
Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz requested that his retirement ceremony, set to be put on by the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, be cancelled out of respect for the passing of his friend.
During a pregame ceremony for Fernandez, Ortiz, like many other players and fans across the nation, wept for the life of his friend. Like Gordon crying into the arms of his teammate just a day later, raw emotion was on display.
Fernandez’ passing exists as a sobering reminder that the impact of an athlete stretches further than any playing field. While this is sometimes difficult to grasp for some, life is more than wins and losses.
It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of one of baseball’s brightest stars to deflect the attention from sport to humanity. But as Dee Gordon sent a shot into the Miami sky with the power of his teammates, and Jose Fernandez behind him, for just a moment, we remembered what matters.
Shawn can be reached on Twitter at @McFarland_Shawn