Life Lessons from Jose Fernandez’ Death

Life Lessons from Jose Fernandez’ Death

This week the Florida Marlins and major league baseball lost two-time All-Star and 2013 Rookie Pitcher of the Year, Jose Fernandez, who was killed along with two friends in a night-time boating accident in Miami.

Sportswriter Tom Verducci said that Fernandez is the most accomplished young player to lose his life in the majors.

His death sent shock waves through the baseball world as players sought to continue playing baseball as they also grieved.   Because their jobs are on display for all of us to see, so were expressions of grief.  Here are some of the things we learned from this tragedy.

  1. It’s okay for men to cry.

Many boys are taught that crying is for babies, girls, and sissies.   However, when tears are associated with loss and grief, they can help us heal.   When tears come as a part of grief, we should let them come, not stifle them, nor be ashamed of them.  It is part of what makes us human.

In the first game after Fernandez’ death, Dee Gordon was chosen to bat leadoff.   He went to the plate wearing number 16, with the name “Fernandez” on the back of his uniform.  In fact, every player wore the same kind of jersey in memory of his friend.

Gordon took the first pitch from the right side of the batter’s box in honor of his teammate who batted right-handed.   Then he walked around the catcher to the other side to bat left-handed.  He took a second pitch for ball two.

Then with a 2-0 count, Gordon hit a fastball off the Mets pitcher into the second tier of the stands.  The ball traveled over “Number 16” placed on the wall in honor of Fernandez.

It was the first home run Dee Gordon had hit all year.  As he rounded third, he began to weep.  As he made his way into the dugout, tears filled the eyes of many of his teammates as they hugged him.   The announcers were teary eyed.  Fans were weeping.

Gordon later said that he has no children of his own, so hitting that home run for Fernandez was one of the greatest moments of his life.

Tears also flowed with St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz.  Diaz grew up just three houses down the street from Fernandez in Cuba.   After the death of his friend, he left the team to attend the memorial service in Miami.

When he came back to the team he didn’t come empty handed.  He hung up his friend’s jersey in the dugout and he wore a “Number 16” wristband to honor his friend.

Then, in the fourth inning, Diaz came to the plate with bases loaded.  On a 2-1 count he hit a fastball over the fence for the first grand slam of his career.  A major league player hits a grand slam only once in every 467 times at bat.   The crowd, knowing the meaning of the relationship between the two men, cheered for a curtain call to a teary-eyed Diaz.   Please, teach your men it’s okay to cry.

  1. None of us are too young to die.

Fernandez had a tattoo that read, “Life is Short, Heaven is Forever.”  Fernandez posted this on Instagram about his tattoo: “I got this tattoo as a reminder to live life with compassion towards others, with empathy, and with love to even those you don’t know. Even if you’re not religious and don’t believe that your every action is being watched and judged by an almighty power, you should still treat others as you want to be treated or as you would want your kids to be treated.”

Fernandez believed this.  He made multiple attempts to escape Cuba.  He was 15 years old when he attempted to leave on a boat crowded with people looking for asylum in the United States.  One of the people on the boat fell overboard and young Jose dove in to rescue the person not knowing who it was, only to discover it was his own mother.   He believed the words he wrote.

Yet his words proved to be prophetic regarding his own life.

We can know truth and the moment we forget that it applies to us, that’s the moment it can cost us our reputation, job, marriage, freedom, or life.

Accidents can happen to any of us.  That’s the reason we call them accidents.   However, we must remember that all of us are mortal, so why tempt our mortality?

This was the nature of the text message that Eduardo Rivero, one of the boating victims, received from his friend Will Bernal.

Will: Yo, please be careful bro.

Eduardo: I will bro.

Will: Try to keep him close to shore if you go out

Eduardo: Trust me, it’s not my time yet.

Will: I know but try to keep Jose cool. Tell him what I said.

Eduardo: I know.

Jose had an argument with his pregnant girlfriend and asked his two friends, and apparently others, to take the boat trip with him.

Will Bernal knew it but in his gut hr believed the trip was a bad idea.  But how do you convince people who feel invincible  that danger lurks at 3:00 in the morning, even someone who has a tattoo that says, “Life is short, heaven is forever”?

  1. Anger is a powerful emotion that should be handled with care.

Anger is a powerful emotion.  We see this explosive anger when baseball players empty the benches after a pitcher brushes back a player with a pitch in retaliation for a home run hit earlier in the game accompanied by a disrespectful bat flip.   Such anger can lead to fights, which can produce season-ending injuries.   Take this anger and mix it with the powerful feeling of being wounded by those we love, and this can produce a madness of a different kind.

While we will never know the nature of their argument, nor is it any of our business, the fact that Jose’s life ended this way will only make the grief that much more difficult for his girlfriend.

Perhaps this is the reason for the command from the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Ephesus:  “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

Because life is short, we need to do everything we can to work out our problems before we call it a day.  At the very least, we need to understand the destructive nature our anger has for others and us and find a way to calm down that does not put ourselves or others in harm’s way.   Otherwise, it gives Satan a chance to destroy and devastate our lives.

photo credit: fox32chicago.com