Two sad things happened for UK based fans of baseball on Sunday. One tragic, the other rather more tinged with light.
The day that was to end in a winner takes all game between the young, vibrant Great Britain baseball squad began with the arresting, heart-stopping news that José Fernandez – the game’s singularly bright pitching talent – had passed away, aged 24, in Miami.
This day of potential joy would, forever, be cloaked in melancholy.
Giddiness gave way to guilt, hope to horror.
José Fernandez’ tale is well known. He was the baseball obsessed boy from the rough streets of Santa Clara, Cuba. The boy whose obsession took him from aping his heroes with sticks and rocks to repeated attempts to flee the country to fulfil his destiny.
The boy who rescued his own drowning mother on his fateful crossing to Mexico, unbowed by three unsuccessful attempts and subsequent stints in prison.
The man who brought exuberant joy to the diamond alongside his unteachable skill. The champion about whom no-one has uttered a solitary negative word.
José Fernandez – American Dream.
Although playing under a different flag there was much of him to see in this GB squad in the past week.
GB were a squad who inspired one Facebook dissenter on the World Baseball Classic page to snipe that ‘this hobby team are not worthy of their spot in the WBC’.
They were a team who entered the final elimination event against an Israel team who bested them for Major League experience by a total of 1839 games to 47. A factor of almost 40 to 1.
Jason Marquis, Israel’s starting pitcher in the game, has won 124 Major League games.
Great Britain’s Spencer Kreisberg is a PE teacher. But he is, now, ‘definitely the best PE teacher I’ve ever faced’ according to former Mets stalwart Ike Davis.
The unquestionable highlight of the tournament was getting to know the team’s sprightly, dynamic 20 something Bahamian contingent.
Champ Stuart, Jazz Chisholm, Todd Isaacs and Kyle Simmons wreaked havoc on the base paths and have given us back in the UK a clutch of eager, brilliant young men to root for on their way to the bigs.
Head Coach Liam Carroll told us before the tournament of the team’s mission to ‘Inspire, Develop and Perform’ – The GB Way.
It is without question that they did. This volunteer general led his rag-tag army into battle and gave no inch.
Amongst the tributes to Fernandez, many alighted on his ability to be at once both a proud Cuban – a national hero and idol – and a proud American, as demonstrated through his trademark joy during this year’s Fort Bragg game.
Many of the GB team’s Bahamian boys – themselves, like Fernandez, products of the Caribbean’s insatiable thirst for hardball – scrawled tributes to their hero on the peaks of their caps.
Like him they have shown this week that they can be born under one flag and proud to carry the lessons, ideals and passions of another.
Baseball lost one of its finest global ambassadors on Sunday.
But baseball in Great Britain gained an armful of their own. We owe it to them to keep them in the spotlight, to ensure this is more than a fleeting moment.
We’ve started with nothing, but we can have everything if we want it enough.
José Fernandez taught us that.
You can do your bit for GB Baseball by donating to their GoFundMe campaign here: https://www.gofundme.com/2chm2 Even $20 will help the team reach their goals.