I don’t believe in God. But then something like Dee Gordon’s home run off Bartolo Colón happens and I can’t be so sure anymore.
Almost two weeks ago, Marlins ace José Fernández died in a tragic boating accident. The baseball world paused to mourn the passing of a 24-year-old who did so much more than throw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball. Born in Cuba, Fernández tried three times before finally bridging the 90-mile gap between his home country and the United States. He wasn’t just a pitcher: He was a Hall of Fame caliber player and a symbol of promise and hope for the Cuban-American community.
“I gave him the nickname ‘Niño’ because he was just a young boy amongst men,” Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton wrote in an Instagram post commemorating his teammate. “Yet those men could barely compete with him. He had his own level, one that was changing the game. Extraordinary, as a person before the player. Yet still just a kid, whose joy lit up the stadium more than lights could. A kid whose time came too soon.”
The Marlins canceled their game later that day. Instead of playing, the entire team went out to dinner together, a rare occurrence in professional sports. Before they could face the baseball reality of losing their best pitcher in a hotly contested National League wild-card race, they had to face the reality of losing a teammate and a friend. Fernández’s death forced the team, and baseball fans, to stop for a short moment and remember that athletes are human and that sports are, in fact, just sports.
Or are they?
Two days after the accident, Marlins’ second baseman Dee Gordon came to the plate in Miami with a 33-inch Louisville Slugger and the memory of Fernández weighing heavily on his shoulders. Working a 2–0 count, he took a mighty hack at the third pitch of the game and crushed it over the fence. Tears streamed down Gordon’s face as he rounded the bases, made it into the dugout, and received a hero’s welcome from the rest of the team.
In and of itself, a leadoff home run in baseball is not all that unusual — 11 have happened in World Series games alone. Yet when one considers who hit this particular leadoff home run, it gets eerie.
In Gordon’s 2,298 career plate appearances, he has hit a grand total of eight home runs. None have come this season. At any given moment, in any given ballgame, he has a 0.3 percent chance of hitting a home run. But on Sept. 27, with José Fernández’s name and number on the back of his jersey, Gordon somehow hit a ball into the second deck of Marlins Park in the team’s first at-bat since Fernández’s death.
In the words of Gordon, “if y’all don’t believe in God, y’all might as well start.”
I don’t know if divine intervention helped that ball leave the stadium. I don’t know if divine intervention is even possible. But I do know that the Marlins and their fans needed that home run, and little Dee Gordon was somehow able to hit it.
Sports allow for moments like these.
On Oct. 30, 2001, former President George W. Bush walked onto the field at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch before Game 3 of the World Series. New York City, and the entire country, still felt paralyzed from the attacks on Sept. 11. Bush, though, stood tall on the mound and gave the crowd a big thumbs-up.
When honored with a ceremonial first pitch a year earlier, Bush chucked the ball five feet short of home plate. But he knew that this pitch at Yankee Stadium had to be a strike. And by God, it was.
Standing in front of nearly 50,000 fans, Bush planted his foot on the rubber, reared back and threw an absolute dart right into the catcher’s glove. The stadium erupted into a raucous “U-S-A” chant, and the fear that had permeated the city for the last month and a half gave way to an ecstatic outcry of patriotic pride.
Just as that improbable strike in 2001 told America it had the strength to endure the threat of terrorism, Dee Gordon’s improbable home run two weeks ago told the Marlins that they had the strength to persevere through the loss of a friend. Fernández may be gone, but his spirit, his love of baseball and his love of life have made those who survive him that much stronger.
I don’t think it was God who helped Dee Gordon hit that ball nearly 400 feet. I think it was José himself.
And maybe, just maybe, the 85-mile-per-hour four-seamer that Bartolo Colón grooved right down the pipe helped a little too.
Noah Asimow is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.