When Jose Fernandez died near the end of last season, like everybody else, I thought it was a great tragedy to have one of the great, young ball players cut down as he was coming into his prime.
And then the police investigation concluded.
In my mind, this no longer was a tragedy, but a matter of pure stupidity. Alcohol and cocaine in his system while operating a boat at way too high a speed with way too little visibility which killed not only himself, but two other men as well.
Sure, it’s still sad to see three lives ended, but you can only feel so bad when the damage is self-inflicted. We all knew the Jose story about how he came over from Cuba. How he dove into the water risking his own life to save his mother who had fallen overboard. It was and still is an amazing tale of the lengths people without freedom will go to to be free. It’s inspiring. It also seems like a waste considering the manner in which he died.
I’m not a Marlins fan, but I am a baseball fan and, as such, truly enjoyed watching him pitch and perform on the baseball field. I also really loved when he hit a homer against the Braves and pimped it so hard that Brian McCann – the self-appointed sheriff of the unwritten rules of the game – took offense and the benches cleared. Because fuck Brian McCann.
When the news came out last week that the Marlins were planning to erect a statue of Fernandez in his memory outside Marlins Park, I found it an incredibly hard pill to swallow. How could they possibly do such a thing to memorialize a man whose life was cut off so suddenly because of such a dumb decision that left a family without their loved one and an unborn daughter fatherless?
It seemed as if I was in the overwhelming majority on that as well. Most of the comments and reactions I read on articles posted by ESPN and Yahoo and various other sites seemed to convey similar arguments against the statue. I say majority because it wasn’t everybody. There was a noticeable contingent of people, be they Marlins fans, fellow Cubans or just plain, ole Jose Fernandez fans, who were very in favor of the statue because of what the player meant to his team, his community and his people. They were willing to, maybe not overlook the circumstances around his death, but accepting of that as just a footnote to a story of an otherwise beloved individual who impacted them in some way.
And that came off crazy to me.
This is Jose Reyes. He came to the Major Leagues in 2003 with MY team, the New York Mets. From the day he arrived, I was a fan. He was young, exciting and seemed to be having the time of his life in every game. He became the best shortstop in the history of my favorite club and when he left for greener pastures as a free agent, I watched many slide shows of his finest Met moments to the tune of Adele’s “Someone Like You”. (Not even a joke.)
Reyes eventually returned to the Mets last season, but under very different circumstances. After the 2015 season, Reyes was involved in an incident while vacationing in Hawaii where he apparently got physical with his wife that resulted in injuries and her being transported to a hospital. There were never charges filed as Mrs. Reyes declined to cooperate with law enforcement, but something happened. Not the good kind of something either.
Jose Reyes was suspended by MLB from the beginning of the 2016 season because of this and – upon his reinstatement – was unconditionally released by the Colorado Rockies who chose to eat the remaining guaranteed money on his contract (a pro-rated $22M for 2016 and $21.46M for 2017) rather than have him remain a member of their ballclub. He was signed by the Mets, the team that raised him, where he had enough goodwill built up with the organization and fan base that it was probably the only destination he could go without the backlash being too severe.
A situation like Jose Reyes’ puts you in a tough position as a fan. You want your team to win. You want your team to get the best players available and, let’s be honest, Jose Reyes was definitely an upgrade on the roster for where the Mets were at the time of his signing. Baseball players – and athletes – in general are no saints. They get into all types of shit just like anybody else. But there’s a fine line between womanizing or partying and beating your spouse to the point where she needs to be hospitalized.
You don’t want to trivialize the situation by any means, but Reyes never had an issue before that. Maybe it was just a one-time thing. But a one-time thing is still very not OK. But remember when Jose was leading off during that awesome 2006 season? You loved him! Yes, but all the evidence seems to point to him beating his wife whether there were charges filed or not.
I want to be able to cheer for Jose Reyes, but every time I do, I catch myself and remember what he – allegedly – did. And that sucks because, as a fan, he’s brought me incredible joy for over a decade. It’s just something I’ll never be able to fully put out of my head while he continues to play for my team.
Which brings me back to Jose Fernandez. The idea that people would support such a statue seemed absolutely ludicrous to me. Until I remembered my own struggle with wanting, trying (choosing?) to remember the best of Jose Reyes.
I can just imagine a little kid in ten years walking with his dad and coming up to the statue of Fernandez and having the following exchange:
Kid: Dad, who’s this?
Dad: This is Jose Fernandez. He was on his way to becoming one of the best pitchers maybe ever before he made some bad decisions and died.
Kid: Oh…how are we supposed to feel about this?
Dad: I don’t know, son. I don’t know.
In this day and age, we know and hear everything about everybody. When it comes to the stories like these, it shows that it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes, you just want your heroes to stay your heroes.