In the midst of the Jose Fernandez tragedy, the Miami Marlins were in need of a leader. The leader they needed had been there all along.
Everyone remembers watching the first game the Miami Marlins played after the tragic death of Jose Fernandez. Who could forget Dee Gordon‘s emotional home run to lead off the Marlins’ half of the first inning in the first game back without Fernandez?
We all lost someone that night. As a fan of the game, we lost one of the best pitchers we will see of this generation. Marlins fans lost an anchor and the face of their franchise. Citizens of Miami lost a public figure. Most importantly, as human beings, we lost another human. Was Jose Fernandez perfect? Not by any means. He was still one of us, nonetheless. Fernandez played the game with more love and exuberance than anyone I can remember in my time.
Many will remember the mountain of a man, Giancarlo Stanton, pulling the team together. Stanton not only lost a teammate, but a friend as well.
In an interview with ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the Marlins slugger had a lot to say about his role as a leader the night he gathered the team on the mound:
"“People see that and act like that’s the first time I’ve ever spoken in my seven years. But just because you’re not out here making speeches, making sure all the video cameras are around, that’s the main thing I don’t like, actually, is doing things because, ‘Oh, the cameras are here, so let me do it just so people see that.”"
That was not the first time that Stanton has been a leader. Stanton has always been the quiet leader in the youthful Marlins clubhouse. Sure, you have the veteran presence and leadership of Ichiro Suzuki and Martin Prado. But Stanton is a homegrown leader. Stanton has been a wonder to watch and had presence in one form or another since he broke into the league back in 2010.
Stanton has and will continue to be not just the face of the team, but a true leader. Leadership aside, there was something more missing for Stanton. Stanton was missing the one thing that many of the Marlins players were missing: an opportunity to cope with the loss.
Coping With Loss
The regular season did not allow for many opportunities to cope with the loss of their friend and teammate. At every approach, the questions would rise about doing anything without Fernandez. Of course practices won’t be the same, obviously games won’t be the same. The team lost their spark plug. Everything, as if they could forget, was a reminder that Fernandez was not there.
The media only assisted in keeping the wounds fresh. Of course the public wanted to know how the individuals were doing, but there was no time to mourn. Everything was so public that these friends, who were more like family, did not have the opportunity to cope privately.
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After the season ended, Stanton wanted a chance to be able to get away and begin the healing. Stanton, fellow Marlin A.J. Ramos and longtime Marlin Ricky Nolasco did just that. The trio began a journey that spanned eight countries, where they were just another face in passing, as an effort to ease the pain of their loss. An opportunity to deal with their own inner tragedy out of the spotlight of the media.
While traveling from France to Dubai and all the way to Brazil, Stanton saw many family-owned establishments and realized something very important. These individuals were happy with what they were doing, similarly to how baseball brings him happiness. This realization brought the joy that Stanton had been looking for.
During their travels, however, the group wanted to find a way to not only cope, but honor the memory of Fernandez. While in Brazil, they met an artist, Tito na Rua, to do just that. They agreed on a mural that would have “NIÑO”, a nickname bestowed to Fernandez by Stanton, and “SAUDADES” on it. “SAUDADES” is a Portuguese word that does not have a direct translation. The closest translation is an emotional state of longing for someone or something that was loved.
All of these experiences helped the group with their coping. More importantly, it taught Stanton a very valuable life lesson. All of the problems that they had, were not really problems. The group had gone through the hardest thing that you can go through, not only as a baseball player, but as a human. The challenge of losing a loved one is one of the most emotionally painful things a human can go through.
Perhaps the best lesson of all that could have been learned by the group, however, was to live life and have fun.
"“Enjoy life to the fullest,” Stanton says. “Play as hard as you can. And enjoy your time on this earth.”"
These are words that I’m sure Fernandez could appreciate. Fernandez was the life of the team, and no one played harder than “Niño”.