By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The end started from my first waking moment Sunday. I woke to the ding of a text message from my dad letting me know for the dozenth time that I needed to stop by his house — the one I grew up in — to claim some odd bits of my existence there before his official move to the suburbs. Underneath the text message was a notification that Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández was dead.
It was one of those exaggerated movie moments in which I had to rub the sleep out of my eyes extra hard and reread multiple times the simple, cold statement. Jose Fernández doesn’t die. I declared the same thing to myself earlier this year when Prince died and when David Bowie died. They apparently didn’t hear me.
But Fernández wasn’t ill. He was 24. He was a superstar who had yet to peak in his magnificence. More than pitching talent, he was unrefined pure joy personified. It was the kind of joy that bothered some, which is the best kind because it’s unfiltered and organic and truly good. It’s a joy that sports in general but specifically the extra-starched game of baseball needs more of.
That can’t die. It’s just not fathomable.
Meanwhile, I filled my car with baseball cards, CDs, photos, an afghan in Notre Dame colors knitted by my grandma. A lot of it was older than 24 years.
Which makes 67 years even more epic. And on the opposite coast from where a gut-wrenching team press conference was held about Fernández with players and personnel as unable as the rest of us to grip the reality of such an illogical end, one that we knew was coming for a while was commencing.
Vin Scully wrapped up his Dodger Stadium career in most joyous fashion Sunday, his final home park call that of the walk-off homer variety to clinch the NL West. It was storybook stuff, much the opposite of the nightmare in Miami. We don’t want to see him go either, but Scully’s is an end without mourning, one that causes us to reminisce, to consider how he has soundtracked so much of our sporting lives. His most mundane of broadcasts were the audio equivalent of the warmest of smiles that would let the audience member know that he or she was welcome here and that everything right now was good. As Scully’s voice is synonymous with joy, there was a joy to this end that went beyond the Dodger players celebrating the win on the field.
Meanwhile, I spent much of the afternoon flipping through the childhood photos and grade-school writing my parents saved and were being transferred from a closet in Beverly to one in Mt. Greenwood.
First published work. About a team of Bears who lose because they underprepared for an opponent they heard "stunk." Ended up being skunks. pic.twitter.com/JtMAOhlUeH
First published work. About a team of Bears who lose because they underprepared for an opponent they heard "stunk." Ended up being skunks. pic.twitter.com/JtMAOhlUeH— Tim Baffoe (@TimBaffoe) September 25, 2016
And as the long day journeyed into night, news spread of the death of Arnold Palmer. He was 87, a year younger than Scully. This day of odd ends and random emotions shuffled on, mortal coils be damned. Now it was a sport’s Mt. Rushmore member who was gone. This sort of death of an elder statesman, an icon, is met with a different sorrow than the inappropriate blindside thwack of a Fernández that cruelly reminds us of death’s often indiscriminate nature with regard for joy.
Mourning a Palmer doesn’t much conjure the Housman-esque feels but more an odd intersection of what we feel for a Scully and for a young athlete taken too soon. It’s a blend of nostalgia mixed with mortal awareness, where we turn to that star’s various places in history as demarcation of our own.
Meanwhile, I threw in the back of my basement my reclaimed high school backpack that doubled as a vehicle to smuggle beer onto the nearby golf course on teenage nights.
And then it wasn’t even a star who capped the end of a very odd day in perfect odd fashion. Another old soul was ending his home career, and it was unlike the ends of Fernández, Scully and Palmer yet made perfect sense as a tie between them all. It’s one we were always aware of, but David Ross isn’t to a sport what Vin Scully is.
The journeyman career backup catcher, Ross was at the end of a year-long goodbye with the Cubs. He’d hit his first career homer off of Mark Grace and with a lot more gray to him Sunday, that storybook chapter of Scully’s swung over to the Midwest.
If David Ross hits a HR, Wrigley is going to lose it.
If David Ross hits a HR, Wrigley is going to lose it.— Cubs Den (@CubsDen) September 26, 2016
Ross would homer to give the Cubs a lead they didn’t relinquish. And then as pitcher Jon Lester was cruising, we were caught off guard again.
It was suddenness amid the expected, a nice tribute for by no means a star. Sports had come full circle in one of its oddest days of ironic and contrasting joys and sorrows in recent memory.
It was a pre-dawn to post-dusk lesson that we don’t get to have these stars or even the David Rosses in our lives forever, though some get closer to the infinite than others. Some bring us joy in elastic fashion, stretched over decades, while others are the fireworks display that has us grasping at the echoes and fleeting sulfuric smells.
And sometimes we are fortunate that a few of sports’ best are actually really good people with infectious smiles or golden voices, with a statuesque photogenicity on a golf course or just the yeoman admirability of asking for nothing more than caddying for Jon Lester.
And the day ends and moments get put back in the box and into the closets of conscious for a while. Until we encounter various moving days where the photos and memorabilia re-enter our lives for an afternoon or evening.
There’s some joy in all of that.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.