Every now and then, you’re struck by a moment that is so raw, so emotional and so inspiring that you break down.
Even without context.
One of those instances happened Monday night when Dee Gordon stepped to the plate for the Miami Marlins as the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the first inning against the New York Mets.
Gordon first stepped into the right-handed batter’s box to honor his fallen teammate, right-handed pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died early Sunday morning in a boating accident. The Marlins canceled their scheduled game against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday and how they prepared themselves to play a game Monday is a miracle.
Gordon took a pitch, then switched to hit from the left side, his natural side, against Mets starter Bartolo Colon, who threw another ball to make it 2-0. On Colon’s third pitch, though, Gordon took a swat. Which is what he mostly does, given that he’s been far more prolific as a base stealer and defender during his MLB career than he has as a power hitter.
Gordon, in fact, went into Monday’s game with only eight home runs in 548 career games, one homer for every 288 plate appearances. Gordon swats, he doesn’t crush.
Except this time he did crush. He lifted a shot into right field and the ball landed in the stands at Marlins Park, 377 feet from home plate. A big crowd on hand to celebrate and mourn the life of Fernandez cheered wildly because cheering wildly was the only thing they could do.
And as Gordon rounded the bases, tears fell from his eyes and covered his face. Some of his teammates flew out of the dugout so that they could embrace him after his home-run trot.
Miami would add four runs in the second inning and go on to beat the Mets, who are fighting for a National League wild-card playoff spot, 7-3.
Gordon’s home run will be historical, shown for the next 100 years. It will, hopefully, connect baseball with something deeper and more meaningful. Gordon’s home run made an impact beyond a game. It was one of those moments where it felt like other forces were at work, other forces that in this case were almost tangible, yet not quite.
Miami has been a middling baseball city, but everyone loved Fernandez. He was 24 and already one of the best pitchers in the game. He was a Cuban refugee who once saved his drowning mother after she was thrown overboard from a boat as they were defecting to the United States in 2007 without realizing who he was saving. He had a contagious enthusiasm for playing baseball that rubbed off on a city.
And just like that, in the dead of the night, he was gone.
The Marlins — ownership, front office staff, players — gathered for a news conference Sunday afternoon and no one could contain their emotions. It was difficult to watch as manager Don Mattingly tried to speak through his tears.
How could the Marlins go on? How were they supposed to play a game less than 48 hours after their beloved teammate perished?
Gordon, who was suspended for the first 80 games of the season for violating MLB’s PED policy, gave us the answer. It was meant to be. The Marlins did what they were supposed to do.
You don’t have to understand fate, but you certainly don’t argue when it happens.