I woke up this morning intending to write something on the Nationals 2016 NL East Championship. Sadly, reality cancelled those plans.
The death of Jose Fernandez hit me hard, and it’s difficult to articulate why. Celebrities die all the time. It’s become commonplace, along with the (possibly excessive) public mourning associated with the news.
But there’s something exceptional about Jose Fernandez’s death. He was the best baseball had to offer. If you didn’t enjoy watching Fernandez pitch, you’re not a baseball fan. His talent was incomparable, and he had only started to scratch the surface. Fernandez was 24. His talent and trajectory suggested a Hall of Fame career. More than that, his electronic personality gave baseball a charismatic character it so desperately needed.
More so than his talent, age, and personality, Jose Fernandez represented what’s great about our society. Forgive me for going there, but Jose’s tragic departure seems particularly salient in 2016, when almost half the country appears poised to vote for a Presidential candidate with reckless disregard for the dignity of human life and the diversity that’s always been America’s greatest strength. Fernandez came to the county like so many thousands of refugees unfortunate enough to be born in a country with considerably less freedom and prosperity than the United States. He barely survived his journey from Cuba at age 15, saving his mother’s life in the process. If you haven’t read about Fernandez’s journey to America, I suggest you do so.
I’m an AMERICAN!! I’m honored & extremely grateful in becoming a U.S. Citizen today. Congrats to the 140ppl who shared this special day w me
— JoseDFernandez (@JDFernandez16) April 24, 2015
Baseball, rooted in history, has always represented the progress and evolution of our culture. Ethic minorities–Honus Wagner, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente–have always represented something greater than their contributions on the field. Jose Fernandez built on that tradition. Unlike many of his fellow refugees and immigrants, Fernandez was born with the physical gifts to immediately find success in his new country. Every strikeout belonged to the Cuban American community rooting him on. His success was theirs. His success was ours too because–put simply–the immigrant story is the American story.
Jose Fernandez’s death is unspeakably and unconscionably sad on every level. For his family, his teammates, his community. He was taken from us too soon. But his story should live forever in the replays of his devastating slider and magnetic smile. More importantly, his story should live forever in the vibrant and ethnically diverse society he leaves behind. God bless America and God bless Jose Fernandez.