We are a bit over 24-hours removed from learning about Jose Fernandez's tragic death, and I am still at a complete loss for words. I have read as much about the remarkably talented 24-year-old as my eyes and heart could bear over the last day, and yet it still feels surreal, if not downright impossible that he is gone. It seems so cruel that one so young, vibrant, and utterly beloved could be taken from this world in the midst of not only a fantastic career, but also mere days after learning that he would be a father. And there is little that I, or anyone else can say to make it better.
Given that he was one of my favorite athletes, though, I feel the need to try.
As a Yankees blog, we have rarely had the privilege of writing about Fernandez. Our most recent post was about the drawbacks of the team making a move for the Marlins ace, and that is the light in which he was generally viewed by Yankees fans - a trade target. The next time I was hoping to write about him was in our annual awards post, wherein I was planning on making a strong case for him as the National League Cy Young winner (and I still may, through misty eyes and shaking keystrokes).
None of that makes this loss any easier, though - and I say that as a fan of a team that never faced Jose Fernandez.
It goes without saying that Fernandez was one of the very best pitchers in Major League Baseball from the moment that he set foot on the field in 2013. He was the Rookie of the Year then, and a frontrunner for the Cy Young now, and all deservedly so. He averaged 6.3 bWAR and 6.7 fWAR per 162-game season, and was first or second in the National League in fWAR, FIP, K/9, K%, and K-BB% in 2016. Fernandez was a superstar in every sense of the word, and he was a must-watch in every start. In the final start of his career, he went 8.0 IP, allowing 3 H, 0 R, and 0 BB, while striking out 12. It was the third-best start of his career by Game Score, and his ninth double-digit strikeout game of the season.
For all of the good that can be said about his tangible performance, it seems to minimize the person that trotted out to the mound every fifth day. The story of how Fernandez came to the United States from Cuba is well-known (though I still recommend revisiting it), but he was so much more than that. He was a hero to the Cuban community in Florida. He bonded with the children of his teammates. He worked closely with the Live Like Bella charity. And he was universally adored by teammates, opponents, coaches, writers, and ... well ... everyone in the game.
And it isn't difficult to see why. Even as fans, who receive such a limited glimpse into a player who is not performing before our eyes, we could see the joy that Fernandez brought to the game. He was always smiling, and he exuded the childlike energy and wonderment that makes baseball such a special game whenever he was near the field. Take a look at Adam Peterson's Twitter feed from yesterday for as many images of that energy that you can handle. That is the player that I will remember, even before his greatness as a pitcher.
I have never written anything along these lines before, and it took my hours to reach this point. I stopped and started a half-dozen times between last night and this morning, and I hope that I in some small way was able honor Fernandez's memory. The game has lost one of its brightest lights, and for that I am deeply saddened, but I am also grateful that we were able to enjoy its shine for the past four years.