The poet wrote there’s nothing more tragic than an athlete dying young. But we’ve found something more tragic these last six months. That’s when there is nothing tragic at all, just youthful folly, involving the athlete dying young.
Jose Fernandez was driving his boat in a “reckless manner” when he died, investigators now say.
And he had taken cocaine, toxicology reports already showed.
And he had drunk alcohol — ordering two bottles of tequila — the nightclub verified.
And he sped in a dangerous section of ocean in the dark of 3 a.m., the emergency responders said.
And he drove two other young men to their death, as the lawsuit says.
That’s not a tragedy. Not in the manner it was framed six months ago when fans filed by his coffin, Marlins teammates played in his jersey and South Florida cried over his death in a manner it perhaps hadn’t over anyone ever.
That sounds so cold, and too callous, but it needs to be said in a manner no one had the heart or the facts to do when Fernandez’s body was being lowered in the ground.
So unfortunately does this: Fernandez’s death could have been avoided. He was not some innocent bystander of fate. He did not suffer from an incurable disease. He was not victim of a drive-by shooting. He did not step on a land mine in a foreign war. He was not a passenger in a car accident, or a passenger in an airplane where something went wrong.
He was the impaired driver of a boat that crashed, as the 46-page report released Thursday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stated.
If he’d lived, Fernandez would be facing manslaughter charges for the deaths of his passengers, Eduardo Rivero, 25, and Emilio Macias, 27. How would this story look then? As a bad night for a star pitcher? Or a foolish, even criminal night that cost two lives?
Rivero and Macias weren’t famous. They didn’t have a city line up to say good-bye to them. But didn’t their families suffer as much as Fernandez’s did? Don’t their lives matter as much as his does?
This isn’t to be insensitive to the pain of Fernandez’s death. A family lost a good son. A team lost a great talent and personality. A Cuban-American community lost a beacon of hope.
It’s just to make certain as we frame Fernandez’s legacy, and pass along the truth of his passing, that we tell the full truth of his final night rather than one that reads like a pre-packaged Hallmark card.
And the full truth is a young, rich and famous ballplayer made the kind of life-wrenching decisions that the young, rich and famous are susceptible to making no matter how hard they throw a baseball.
He drank. He snorted. He drove. He sped. He crashed in the dark. He killed two others.
And South Florida woke up and cried over him six months ago — just as it still should now. His death isn’t tragic in the way victims of innocent accidents are. But it’s profound in a different manner now that all the facts are out.
He was flawed. He had warts. He was human in the manner all of us are, but also in a manner that surprises some people when it involves a superstar athlete. Why? Because he throws a baseball better than any of us?
Even that 24-year-old who can strike out the side is subject to making dumb decisions, too.
“Fernandez operated the [vessel] with his normal faculties impaired, in a reckless manner, in the darkness of night, in an area with known navigational hazards such as the rock jetties and channel markers,” the commission’s report concluded.
So now we know all there is to know about that night. Fernandez wasn’t a passenger, but the impaired driver. This was no accident, but a reckless crash. And the real tragedy of that night, as tragedies are framed, is two passengers died and Fernandez’s newborn daughter must grow up without her father.
There’s a social-media movement afoot debating if the road named in Fernandez’s honor beside Marlins Park should be changed. No, it shouldn’t. But those walking it should remember more than good baseball nights.
“Jose Fernandez Way” should also remind all of us how one bad night of decisions can end a good man’s life.
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