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Coping with the death of José Fernández is difficult, and that's OK

Baseball is more than a game; it’s a relationship. It gives and it takes. It provides comfort and it provides stress. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to grieve.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I woke up the morning of Sept. 25, 2016, just like I would any other regular Sunday morning. I rolled around in bed, squinted my eyes at the sun peering through the blinds, and softly pet my cat while I tried to adjust to being awake. I did what just about every other 22-year-old does: checked my phone with the intention of scrolling through every social media site and catching up on any late night/early morning tweets, posts, Snapchats, etc.

Almost immediately, it was a decision I regretted. My heart sunk, my face felt like it gained 50 pounds, and my brain refused to accept the information my eyes were transmitting.

José Fernández Dies In Boating Accident

This was the very post I saw on Facebook that morning on my timeline.

"There’s no way this is real," I immediately thought. I assumed it was some sick joke article by a poorly run satire page. Fernández is one of the greatest pitchers of my generation; there’s no possible way a human with such tremendous talent could just be taken away from the sport I love so much.

After probably 20 seconds of just staring at the picture of Fernández associated with the article, I finally glanced down at the source of the post. It was from MLB Trade Rumors. I know this site. It's usually one of the first outlets to share breaking news and it's rarely inaccurate.

Still, I couldn’t believe it.

Maintaining my denial, I opted to close Facebook without clicking through the article and decided to pull up Twitter. Surely Twitter would be going nuts if this were true, and sure enough, every tweet over the past two hours was regarding Fernández’s death. My stomach felt queasy and it took everything in me to continue scrolling. I couldn’t accept the fact that there was actually something worse than him re-injuring his UCL.

I made the decision to promptly text and tell my girlfriend. She doesn’t understand a whole lot about baseball, but she’s the first person to willingly listen to me go off about a player, team, game, whatever.

"One of my favorite pitchers was found dead and I feel so sick," I texted her.

"Wait, what?" she responded.

"A pitcher for Miami. Boat accident last night."

"Nick, I’m so sorry."

I didn’t know how to feel, and I’m sure she didn’t either.

How was I supposed to feel? Is it wrong of me to want to cry or feel angry? I didn’t know. All I knew is I didn’t feel good. It’s not like Fernández is a relative or a close friend and my whole world should feel flipped upside down. But weirdly, it felt just like that.

Fernández is unlike any other player in the sport of baseball. If he’s upset while playing, you’ll know. If he’s having fun while playing, you’ll know it even more. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was about as transparent as they come.

My first recollection of Fernández was Opening Day of 2014 against the Rockies in Miami. He struck out nine and allowed just one run over six innings. His stuff was electric and his fastball was dominant. He looked like the cockiest, most arrogant guy you’d ever see on the mound. Grinning whenever he got a strikeout and walking around with his head high after every recorded out. It got under my skin and I wanted nothing more than to see the Rockies throw out a six-run inning to ruin his night.

With the Rockies down 6-0 in the sixth inning of that game, Carlos Gonzalez launched a 430-foot homer over the center-field wall. Fernández didn’t watch the ball. He knew it was gone the second it touched CarGo’s bat. Instead, he stared right at Gonzalez, who took his sweet time walking to first base. I was glad. This was payback. I hadn’t ever seen that kind of apparent tension before in a Rockies game. I thought the two were seconds away from charging at each other and causing a bench-clearing brawl.

As the camera was finally able to get a view of Fernández’s face, the biggest smile emerged. A smile that was so contagious you couldn’t help but grumpily smile back. One of the best hitters in baseball just launched a moonshot off of him after tossing five shutout innings, and he was okay with that. It was at that moment I knew we had not just a ridiculously talented pitcher in our sport, but one full of obvious emotion and passion. He was having fun doing what he was doing.

After that game, it was impossible to not follow the young phenom. He brought that emotion and passion to every single start. That laugh — my God, that laugh — was so contagious. He never took things too seriously. He played the game he loved and he played it well. His arsenal of pitches was extraordinary. That slider — my God, that slider — is the filthiest pitch a human being can throw, aside from maybe a Clayton Kershaw curveball.

I’ve been watching baseball religiously since 2007, and the sport has honestly put me through emotions I didn’t know I could feel. Watching the 2007 and 2009 Rockies released more dopamine into my head than just about anything else I've experienced so far in my life. The multiple walk-off losses every season that I've endured have torn my heart in half and made me feel like I had just been dumped by my first middle school girlfriend every single time. In sports — in baseball specifically — you feel as if you’re a part of that team. This isn’t football where you get one game on Sunday and the rest of the week is normal life. This is baseball, where you have plans just about every night to watch your team and feel the joy and pain of every pitch, hit, error, and home run.

After pondering throughout my day how I’m supposed to feel about this tragedy, the answer was rather clear. Fernández brought me joy through his years in the major leagues. He was a person who added a dose of excitement, intrigue, happiness, and emotion to a sport that I obsess over. We’re not related, but his death felt like a death of a loved one. We’ve obviously never hung out or even talked, but I feel like I’ve lost a friend. He brought happiness to my life and to the lives of all baseball fans more than we realize. He injected passion into something we all love.

Baseball is more than a game; it’s a relationship. It gives and it takes. It provides comfort and it provides stress. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to grieve.

It’s okay to remember José Fernández as more than just a Major League Baseball player.