Chris Grant’s Sport Column – Too soon

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Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez works against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Turner Field in Atlanta on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)
Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez works against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Turner Field in Atlanta on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)

drop capt always comes as a huge shock to me when a professional athlete suddenly dies. After all, they appear to be the healthiest of us. Those men and women in the primes of their lives, at the height of their physical powers, their bodies could not possibly fail them, nor could death possibly take them away when they have so much more to give.

This was exactly the way I felt Sunday when I woke to the news of the death of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. When I read the headlines, I mostly wondered just how this could happen to a guy who had so many great years left in baseball and certainly in his life. Now I am not claiming any great attachment to Fernandez in particular. I certainly was aware of just how good he was on a Major League mound and for a brief time last year I had him on one of my fantasy baseball teams. But that did not matter when I saw he had died. I was mostly left in shock, wondering how this could have happened to someone in their prime.

I still recall the first time I realized death could come at any moment for a sport’s star. Impossible as it seemed, the greatest basketball hero of my childhood, University of Maryland star, Len Bias, dropped dead shortly after being selected by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA draft. Bias was tall and strong and more athletic than any other person playing college ball at the time. He was certainly destined to become the greatest professional basketball player of all time. At least, that’s what I thought. Then, in a second, he was impossibly gone. I remember crying that day, because Lenny should have still been with us and even now, 30 years later, I think about him and what might have been.

I assume this will be the case for the young fans of Jose Fernandez. Heck, if I’m being honest, it will surely be the case for a lot of his old fans too. When an athlete leaves us in their prime, the question of ‘what if’ becomes permanently attached to their names. Fernandez enjoyed two really good seasons in professional baseball and he was only 24-years old. So we are left to wonder, what if he’d pitched another 10 or 15 years? How good might he have been? Was he a 300-game winner? Was he destined to become the all-time strikeout king? Sadly, we will never know.

Jose Fernandez is gone, like Len Bias before him. In passing he joins with Bias and Hank Gathers and Thurman Munson and many other fine athletes who never got the chance to finish their careers. Those athletes who were never able to show us all they were capable of. He will certainly be missed and not just by his fans and his teammates, but by everyone who enjoys baseball, even those fans who have yet to be born. For his story will remain incomplete forever and that is certainly as great a tragedy as can be.