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One year since the tragic death of Jose Fernandez

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

We ask them to be more than they can be long before they can be it, because no matter how young we are or old we get we still need heroes, and a kid who throws the ball hard will have to do some days. That’s a lot to carry around. But not for us.

It helps when they have a real story, too, and Jose Fernandez had one of those stories. Even if you didn’t know him, had never laughed with him or knew what frightened him, you did know you’d like him, because of the story. Because he had courage. Because he took care of his grandma, and no man who cries when his grandma walks in the door can be all bad. There’s a man, you figure, who could be your friend.

He’s been gone a year today.

We asked him to be more than he could be, and maybe he did the same, and he lasted 24 years, because he did the sort of dumb thing people do sometimes, and when they’re lucky – really lucky – they get to apologize and try to be better tomorrow. He wasn’t lucky and neither were the two men with him on that damned boat, and so neither was his grandmother or his unborn child or the mother of that child or the men who texted him early that morning and begged him to tell them the news was untrue.

A year’s barely enough to catch your breath. If what knocked it from you was a picture of an accident and a funeral and a community torn to pieces, when a locker is sealed in plastic and a number is sewn into some baseball jerseys and a mural decorates a ballpark, then what’s a year? When a young man was just beginning to ask the right questions about himself, about who he was and what was important and what he would stand for, when he was just starting to ask more of himself than he maybe could do, when he leaves so much of that undone, is Sept. 25, 2017 really so much different than Sept. 25, 2016? Is this morning any less raw than that one?

In his final summer he’d been asking friends how to absolve himself and others from the stuff that comes with being a regular flawed human being, how to let go of the anger and, if not hate, then at least distrust. How to expect greatness from himself and those near him, understand something less, forgive the worst of it, and appreciate all of it.

Penelope Fernandez touches a portrait of her father during his birthday commemoration at Kiwanis of Little Havana in Miami on Monday, July 31, 2017. (AP)

Maybe that’s a little deep, particularly for a 24-year-old who one night soon would die alongside friends in an accident that should not have happened. But to remember Jose Fernandez as a guy who could throw hard and had a great smile and made a bad choice, oh well, just that, would miss the details. Maybe we won’t ever know the best of those, locked away now forever, but we know he was searching.

We know he wanted to be great. The best. Point out the best and that’s who he wanted to be, and a little more. Everybody wants that, though. That doesn’t make him different. Which, probably, is the point.

Jose Fernandez was going to be better because he was only just beginning to ask the right questions. He could pitch. But what about the rest of him?

He was going to be a father. A leader. A friend. A husband. He was going to be a man. That doesn’t mean he was going to be infallible. Indeed, quite the opposite. It meant he would be wholly fallible, vulnerable, occasionally dumb, and then continue to show up. He would, I’m guessing, be kind, be passionate, be humble, and then raise his hand when he screwed up.

I believe that because those close to him believe that. They believed in him. They always did, really. But something had changed in Jose Fernandez over that last summer, they say. Could’ve been Penelope, the daughter who was coming. She was born in February, and this summer Dee Gordon carried her into the Miami Marlins’ clubhouse. Had she been old enough to know, she might’ve noticed the locker just as it was on Sept. 24, 2016, about the only thing Jose Fernandez left unchanged.

All those plans to be better and to understand himself and to turn that into something good for other people, those were left undone. His fault.

Now a year’s gone by and his family grieves every day and his organization won’t be the same ever and lawyers sort through the details of who will be held responsible for what. So, about what you’d expect after a terrible loss, a terrible day, all the terrible days that followed, and those ahead.

That’s a lot to carry around. For everyone.

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