Jose Fernandez was a pitcher for the Miami Marlins.
His pitches were comets from distant and never imagined galaxies. They were rockets, they were bombs, they were terrifying, curving flourishes that made you think you were watching the astonishing dazzle of an alien technology. It was a new kind of physics, one that allowed him to perform stunning feats that lifted us from our lousy, mortal shells,.
He was a blazing fire, a goddamned Demi-God.
Fernandez died in a boating accident on Sunday at the age of 24.
( This is a photograph of Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez’s teammate. Gordon is known for his speed, not his power, and he is so thin and little that he truly looks like a child out there amongst the gigantic professional athletes. On the first game back after his friend’s death, in his first at bat, he hit a home run, and as he circled the bases he wept like a boy. As he said later in an interview, “I ain’t never hit a ball that far, even in batting practice. I told the boys, ‘If you all don’t believe in God, you better start.’ For that to happen today, we had some help.”)
Three times, Jose attempted to defect from Cuba to the US unsuccessfully, and after each failed attempt he was put in prison where, still a boy, he shared space with hard and dangerous men. In 2007, at the age of 15, he made the crossing successfully, but not before somebody on his boat was washed overboard. Fernandez, operating on the pure instinct of a boy that age, when right and wrong seem clear, and your body, your entire life, is still radiant and unlimited, dove into the night waters to save the person. He had no idea who had been swept into the ocean, and with each stroke he took, an eight-foot wave grabbed him, lifting him up into the shifting darkness above, before splashing down and submerging him again. The person, somewhere before him, bobbing in and out of sight, was his mother. He got to her, told her to hold tight to his left shoulder, asked her not to push down, and slowly swam her back to the boat.
Imagine doing something so great with your life.
His baseball career was short and beautiful and joyous. It was something to behold, each start an event I got excited for, anticipating it the same way some other people might anticipate a new Game of Thrones episode or a Bruce Springsteen concert.
He was, in a word, awesome, and his death was a tragedy for the communities he lived amongst, and even beyond, even to a 50 year-old white guy living in Toronto who found himself trying to explain to his wife why he’s crying about the death of some pitcher on his fantasy baseball team.
The boat Fernandez was on the night of his death was traveling around 55-60 mph. He was with two of his friends, both around his age, and it was late. It would have been dark, black even– nothing but the feel of water beneath and sky above. Everything beautiful, the wind and spray and stars in his face, infinity spreading out in all directions…And Jose Fernandez, soon to be a father, moving into the future with such velocity, confidence and hard earned momentum… And then the boat hit a rock jetty and all three of the men died on impact.
Just like that.
They would not have known what had happened.
Our lives are so brief.
We’re all speeding through the dark, the beautiful and the damned, alike, each one of us luckier and more vulnerable than we could ever imagine.