In an emotional day following the death of Miami Marlins young star, Jose Fernandez, infielder Dee Gordon drenched the eyes at Marlins Park with one of the most moving and surreal moments in sports.
I am filled with the most sincere admiration for the Marlins club. With heavy hearts, they laced up and played a game of Major League Baseball.
Boy, did they ever.
The world quite possibly witnessed the most memorable leadoff at-bat in Major League history, if not the most memorable ever. Dee Gordon, a natural left-hander, took the first pitch in the right-handed batters box – imitating Fernandez’s swing – to pay tribute. Two pitches later, and back to his usual side, he hit his first home run in 358 days off the Mets’ veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon.
It was just the ninth one in his six-year career.
The Marlins beat the Mets 7-3 and Gordon went 4-for-5 with 2 RBI.
Following a short stretch of mourning, these athletes set aside trying to explain the unexplainable and trust that doing their job is the best they can do.
Sports, they have a way of always coming through. It never ceases to remind us of its capabilities. The watching of human beings making possible the improbable. On Monday night, at Marlins Park, inside the Little Havana neighborhood where Cuban-born Jose Fernandez was so deeply adored, viewers around the world observed a special degree of unlikeliness.
Gordon was the first Marlin to bat since Fernandez’s death, as they understandably did not play their scheduled game on Sunday against the Braves. Gordon’s not a home run hitter. He shouldn’t have hit the ball that far.
“I told the boys, ‘If y’all don’t believe in God, y’all might as well start,’” said Gordon. “I ain’t ever hit a ball that far, even in BP (batting practice).”
After the game, when asked if he was trying to honor Fernandez by hitting a home run, he lowered his head and proceeded to shake it no.
But he did. And the invitation to share his emotion was extended to all as he rounded third, sporting a version of Fernandez’s helmet and wearing the No. 16 on his jersey (like the rest of the team). Gordon wept, pounded his chest and waved to the sky as he crossed the plate before falling into the arms of his teammates.
“I saw him crying right when he rounded first base,” Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud said about Gordon. “I was crying, too. I had my head down. But when he was coming to home plate, and tears were coming down his face, they were coming down mine, too. I’m pretty sure the whole world felt that emotion in that moment — whether you were here or watching it on TV or anywhere. For that to happen, for him to honor him with his batting stance the first pitch of the game too, and to hit a homer, it’s unbelievable.”
And of course it was to the Mets, who in 2001, just 10 days following the September 11 perish, touched the soul of a vulnerable city with an iconic go-ahead home run by Mike Piazza to lift the Mets over the braves 3-2. That was the first game in New York following the attack.
Just as Piazza’s blast could never lighten the loss of nearly 3,000 lives, Monday night does not take away the inevitable pain the Fernandez family will face. They will live with it and they will deal with it. But for a brief moment, spirits across the nation brightened. The tears that flowed merged a devastatingly dark void with raw, uncut joy.
Thank you, baseball.