Sunday afternoon was supposed to be just another day of regular season baseball between the Braves and Marlins. Instead, tragedy struck, and the game suffered a major loss with the death of Jose Fernandez. The game was canceled, because there was absolutely no way that these guys could have been expected to play with that on their mind. Instead, Sunday was a day of mourning and remembrance of the star player who left this place far, far too soon.
The face of the Braves franchise is continuing to receive recognition for the excellent season that he’s had in 2016. The two national outlets who gave Freeman some shine over the weekend were CBS Sports and ESPN. Matt Snyder of CBS complimented Freddie on being a “true pro” during what’s been a tough year for the team, while David Schoenfield of ESPN had some “apologizing” to do.
Freeman was entering his age-26 season, but with five full seasons in the majors, it seemed like he had maxed out into a consistent, 20-homer, .840 OPS kind of hitter. While many players do break out at 26, with that much experience, it seemed unlikely Freeman had much improvement left.
Well, I was wrong. So I apologize, Mr. Freeman.
The Braves' first baseman is hitting .303/.398/.564 with 31 home runs and 42 doubles. Baseball-Reference values him at 6.1 WAR, tied for third among NL position players; FanGraphs values him at 5.7 WAR, also third in the league. It's been a superstar season.
We’re now in the final week of Turner Field’s lifespan as a baseball stadium, but the folks at Liberty Media are already chomping at the bit to get the team to Cobb County. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei recently spoke to the AJC and stated that the team will have “more upside” in their new ballpark. How much upside there is remains to be seen, but he did continue to reiterate the organization’s line that they will spend more money once they move into the new ballpark.
“We have a young team, not invested a lot, opportunity to improve it, and (are) excited about where we can go with the team,” Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said. “I think there’s more upside when we bring the new stadium on-line, when we complete The Battery, the retail/mixed-use development that we have next door to the stadium.”
Braves officials have said they plan to increase the player payroll an undisclosed amount next season.
Yesterday was a dark day for baseball, as one of the bright young stars of the game was taken away from us and from his family and friends far too soon. It’s still a bit surreal to even type out the words “Jose Fernandez is dead,” but there they are. It’s a stunning and tragic loss for the baseball world, and I’m sure it’s an even bigger loss for those who actually knew him personally. Dan Le Betard of the Miami Herald did his best to put into words what Fernandez meant to Miami, the Marlins organization, and the Cuban community in South Florida.
In the history of South Florida sports, only Dontrelle Willis has matched his contagious enthusiasm and charisma. And I say matched it because I know of no human way for his joy at work to be topped. He loved what he did, loved it so hard and so big, loved it so much that he forced you to love it, too. Fernandez played the way the best Latin music feels. He acted like a little boy in a sports world soaked with adult problems and cynicisms that can make us lose sight of the root verb at the center of what he did for a living. To play. You expected him to throw his glove into the sky at the end of successful innings. And you know what watching him work felt like to South Florida’s Cubans? Freedom.
While there was no game in Miami, the rest of baseball played on. One thing I did notice was the fact that even with the players clearly out there dealing with heavy hearts, there was so much joy displayed on the field — from Adrian Beltre being wacky on the basepaths, to the Red Sox outfield coming up with more dance routines as they march towards the playoffs, it was beautiful to see guys having fun because ultimately, this is just a game. Jose Fernandez realized that, and it’s what made him such a beloved player. It’s also why we’ll all miss him so much.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the Dodgers gave Vin Scully one heck of a send-off. The Dodgers had their backs to the wall in the bottom of the ninth inning, but super rookie Corey Seager hit a game-tying solo homer to send the game to extras. Charlie Culberson then hit a walk-off dinger in the 10th inning to beat the Padres on the day and the rest of the NL West on the season. The Dodgers are going to the playoffs as NL West Champions for the fourth straight season