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Jose Fernandez was fun, and that's what baseball needed

We will miss him.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Some events are so unthinkable that seeing news of them feels like a heart attack. This is how I felt when I saw the news about Jose Fernandez.

I never met Jose, nor did I ever have the honor of seeing him pitch in person. I have never been to Marlins Park, and the one Marlins game I've been to was a Mat Latos start at Yankee Stadium. The entirety of my relationship with Fernandez came through the screens of my television, laptop and phone.

That was all I needed to know that this was a special man. When he debuted at age 20, he was from that moment the most exciting player in baseball. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are all giants, yes, but Fernandez was something more. There was his dominant pitching, his destructive slider, the unapologetic fire he brought to the mound.

Most important of all, though, was his happiness.

There was never a happier man at the ballpark than Jose Fernandez. There was a richness to him, a boyish giddiness with which he played. Even when it caused older players to take exception, he wouldn't stop being himself. He was only 24 years old, already so incredible at his craft with his best years ahead of him. He was about to become a father.

The raw emotion on display from Don Mattingly, David Samson, Mike Hill and Martin Prado at the Marlins' press conference says all that you need to know about how much his team loved him, how much his city loved him, how much his game loved him. An incredible human being has left a void in our hearts.

What we're left with is a travesty of a day, and the grim prospect of the future. Baseball has been dealt a hay-maker of a blow. How do we move on?

We start by weeping. The loss of Fernandez feels more raw and personal because of everything good that he stood for not only in the game of baseball, but in life. He was the American dream. His harrowing escape from Cuba to seek the freedom of the United States didn't damper his spirits, nor did his his stint in a Cuban jail for a failed previous attempt. Everyone who speaks of him so painfully now in the past tense speaks of him with adoration and admiration.

Fernandez was special. Tears flowed across the country on Sunday. Some of them were mine.

What's most important, though, is what follows the grief.

Baseball is whatever the players make it to be. It can be an overly serious slog played with heads down and quiet pride, or it can be a jovial and raucous affair. Fernandez believed in that second philosophy. It is a frame of mind that makes the game better for both players and fans alike. He had fun, he adored fun, he was fun. Fun is the beating heart of sports, more so than the righteousness of competition or unwritten rules could ever dream of being. Fun is why young children take up sports. It's why it's called playing, not fighting or battling. Nobody appeared to have more fun playing baseball than Fernandez.

There's more to it than baseball, though. Fernandez's happiness wasn't, and isn't, just a style of playing ball. It's an ethos. It's a way of approaching the world as a whole. Elation is Fernandez's legacy just as much as his incredible pitching is. His kindness and compassion touched the city of Miami and the game that he loved.

It's a lesson that we can learn as a game and as a people. We can embrace the little wonders that the everyday affords us like Fernandez did. The game and its players can allow themselves to let celebration and exhilaration to slip through the cracks in their armor more often, to watch home runs and rave on the mound after weaving together an important strikeout. They can remember why they started playing the game in the first place when they were so very young.

Fernandez never forgot that. He never stopped playing like he was experiencing victory for the first time. There is nothing in sports more incredible than that. He will be dearly missed.

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Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus and BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.