There's a certain impossibility to death. Death doesn't skip any of us, and its arrival can be readily depended upon even in the usual absence of a welcome mat for its appearance, but some large part of it remains inexplicable. Maybe it's the concept of an afterlife, or the word "mortality" as part of the greater scheme of the universe being something so massive and monstrous that our best efforts to comprehend it result only in struggle.
Within slices of life itself, we find things like baseball fandom. "Mortality" in baseball is the scuffling of a great player at the plate or on the mound, or a contending team seeing its window of title aspirations coming to a close. The humans themselves, though? They are immortal. They are untouchable; the icons of our childhood and the respite from the troubles of our lives and the inspiration for admiration for the turn of two centuries.
It is this moment, then, when the impossibility of mortality within the lives of the baseball community - and far beyond - stuns and debilitates, similarly rendering impossible the feeling of adequately detailing the breadth of a sentence such as this: Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernandez died Sunday at the age of 24.
I remember the first time something baseball-related made me cry, and that was the 2008 World Series. The second was the passing of Harry Kalas the following year. Today, there is emotion within me I'm not sure I've felt since, and the rallying of baseball fans and friends and family across this nation and the nation of Cuba only serves to reinforce that what I - and surely you - are feeling is grief shared by many.
Fernandez was a transcendent talent whose ability could only possibly be overshadowed by his character and tremendous grin. His possession of a certain panache and buoyant character both on-field and off is something that felt all too rare in the game before his arrival, and feels freshly emptied upon his passing.
Fernandez escaped by boat from Cuba - mind you, only after he had failed three times previously - and even had to save his own mother from drowning on the journey. He made eight starts as a 21-year-old before falling victim to injury and the year-long shelving of Tommy John surgery, only to return little more than a year later in July of 2015, as strong (or stronger) than ever. Just two weeks ago, Fernandez attended Bella's Ball, a fundraising gala for the benefit of those fighting pediatric cancer, just one example of the sort of high character human he was. As above: Covering the full depth may be impossible.
Against the Phillies, as a ballplayer, he was also as impressive as expected: six starts, 34.1 innings, a 2.88 ERA and 42 strikeouts to 11 walks. The same story goes for every other team Hernandez faced; the Cardinals, who managed to score 10 ER against Fernandez to give him his highest opponent ERA at 5.00, still struck out 24 times in the 18 innings they had to trudge through against the Marlins ace. Another form of impossibility was having to face him. And that was true from the get-go, as Fernandez even said before his Major League debut in 2013:
"After [defecting] I’m not scared about anything else...I’ve been in jail, I’ve been shot at, I’ve been in the water. I’m not scared to face David Wright. What can he do?"
His time in the league was so brief that it threatens to be forgotten too soon. It's of paramount importance that people like Fernandez be remembered not just for who they were on the mound or at the plate, but for the total package of person that they were.
And so we are left with a sport and a world without José Fernandez, where once we had him for such a fleeting moment. His tragic, too-soon departure feels unfair; feels impossible. But if we're to do one thing in its wake, it should be to remember the vibrancy with which Fernandez lived his life and carried out his baseball career. He deserves nothing less, and certainly so much more.
May he rest in peace.