COMMENTARY – This is not written to sound callous or indifferent to the plight of the Miami Marlins. It has been four months since the team in south Florida lost its ace, Jose Fernandez, in a boating accident. The wounds are still deep and like anyone who has had a loved one pass away, the healing process can take months or years to take hold.
This is a team that prides itself on being tightly-knit, like a brotherhood or even greater – a family. Walking into Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. How will teammates that knew him well react to the emptiness of laughter and a smile that captured the essence of why players fall in love with a child’s game. Fernandez encompassed everything that baseball was about – being the boy who left Cuba to pursue a life outside of what he was used to so he could realize a dream. Now, his memory will blanket this organization this year, but will the void cause mental strain or anguish in the club house’s pursuit of a playoff berth?
For the record, Miami has the second longest streak in the Majors of teams that have not appeared in the post season (13), only second to the Seattle Mariners (15).
The topic of missing Fernandez was asked of MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro when he opened his weekly “Inbox” to the fans who have wanted answers just like I do as how this team will cope, overcome and more importantly, win.
“It has been four months since Fernandez's tragic death in a boating accident, and the grieving process is not over. You're asking a question that many fans are curious about: How will the club respond after such a devastating loss? When Spring Training gets underway on Feb. 14, manager Don Mattingly, the players and the staff will be asked how they'll move forward.”
Frisaro goes on to explain the bottom line is it's going to be tough. There is no replacing Fernandez's incredible production and contagious personality.
As for the core, it was retained mainly in honor of Fernandez. A majority of the players were his teammates and close friends. They leaned on each other and picked each other up at such a difficult time.
If this organization uses this experience – albeit a time of grief – to rise about and excel, it could be one of the best stories in baseball and sports this year. Death and loss have a way of changing athletes and sports individuals. It has a way of making them stronger, to galvanize the masses. If bonds were already strong, they will tighten a bit. Players like Dee Gordon, one of Fernandez’s closest friends, will continue to honor him with solid play.
“It also means that players the Marlins have signed and traded for in the offseason, will become part of the solution of trying to move on, not to replace, but to move forward with success,” Frisaro writes.
“The 2016 Marlins were a tightly knit group. As we saw in the immediate aftermath of the accident, the bond grew even tighter. If the 2017 Marlins are going to have success, it will require a team effort. They don't have the luxury of knowing that one of the best pitchers in the game will be on the mound every fifth day.”
The additions of Edinson Volquez, Jeff Locke and Dan Straily will help ease the loss of wins and strikeouts. What it won’t do is erase the loss of the human, the man, the teammate and the brother. It also means another chapter shall be written. This time, with the hope the outcome is more compelling and a lot more successful than the 13 seasons this team has been at home during the playoffs.
As odd as it seems, the sooner baseball starts again, the healing can continue.
The Marlins may not have No. 16 roaming the dugout or the mound in reality, but his presence will be felt, which could mean this organization will rise above the loss and gain a whole lot more.