First of all, heartfelt thanks to everyone – including not a few of my long time readers and correspondents from the old days at Circling the Bases – who emailed or texted me or posted here or otherwise reached out to express their condolences, understanding that like any serious fan I take the loss of my heroes personally and hard.
So. I drove over to Marlins Park this morning to be part of whatever impromptu memorial might invent itself. On the ride over one of the local sports radio shows tried to interview Craig Minervini, the FoxSports Florida reporter for the team who had one of the best rapports with Jose. Minervini, a professional sports journalist and sportscaster of nearly 30 years’ standing, kept choking up and couldn’t finish the interview. The audio spectacle made a bleak drive even more wretchedly surreal.
Sombre as you might expect, there were several hundred people there. Some were, like me, just there because they felt they should be. We’d come to talk to each other but were trafficking in grief cliches and the occasional memory of a standout moment in a standout career. There was some crying and hugging but, really, not much. I attribute that to shock rather than indifference. I was talking to one guy whose name I still don’t know but whom I recognized as owning a couple of box seats near where I usually sit. We recalled a few of El Keed’s great games, the sick catch of Tulowitzki’s liner, the brouhaha with the Braves over Jose’s admiring his home run, and some other odds and ends. Were were both very emotional. He said “see you next season” as I walked away, as if he couldn’t wait for this accursed one to be over already.
Most of the crowd, though, were gathered under the two electronic boards above the ticket windows that read “Today’s game has been cancelled,” lined up to exchange or obtain refunds for their tickets. Commerce proceeds. Blessedly, there was minimal security presence and even more blessedly, less press presence. I saw only one antenna truck parked out front and didn’t notice any journalists working the small crowd. A small comfort when small comforts could be prized.
Inside, the Marlins were preparing for a press conference that they ultimately held at around 12:30 and to which I listened on the drive home. The ballplayers had selected Martin Prado to represent them at the dais, along with Don Mattingly, Michael Hill and David Samson. The rest of the team stood quietly behind and off to their left, half-dressed in their jersey tops. Most seemed still to be in shock, a few visibly trying to hold it together. Prado was emotional but professional; when asked how they’d manage to play tomorrow he replied “We’re human beings, not robots – but we’ll find a way to get it done.” Mattingly was distraught and kept repeating himself, rubbing his eyes and trying to hold it together. Michael Hill lost it completely after trying to reminisce about introducing Jose to the press when he was drafted and needed Mattingly to console him. Samson handled himself in a businesslike manner befitting someone with icewater in his veins. Everyone else had their human moments. So it goes.
Jose Fernandez was 24 years old, an expectant father, loving son and grandson, and soon-to-be husband. A town that by and large dislikes this franchise because of its ownership is wounded today. All the rest is trivia.