for Jose Fernandez (1992-2016)
On September 25th, 2016, Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident off Miami Beach. At the time, he was the #2 pitcher in the Yahoo! Fantasy League I’d played in for twenty years with friends from college. He led the National League in K/9 and posted a WHIP of 1.12, a FIP of 2.30, and an xFIP of 2.56. His WAR was 6.2, his SIERA 2.81, the best in baseball that year. In other words, as he was owned by a competing manager, I hated him.
While friends and family mourned, the Marlins dedicated their season to him, and Dee Gordon hit a home run that’s probably proof of the afterlife, I elated. I distinctly recall pumping my fist upon hearing Rotoworld’s Daily Fantasy Baseball Podcast report his death. That Finals Week, I was scheduled against Fernandez’s owner, Twatwaffle Muffcramps, with whom I’d been best friends in high school but hadn’t spoken to outside the Yahoo! Message Board in five years. All the predictive models demonstrated that Fernandez (who had a two-week start) would single-handedly destroy my team. Instead, without Fernandez, whose roster-spot Twatwaffle Muffcramps left empty in Memoriam, I earned my third “Smell my Greinke” League championship and received the honorary payment of $375 through PayPal.
As the glamor of that halcyon championship faded, however, my attention turned to the unavoidable moral of the story: I had rooted for the death of another human being. Ultimately, around Christmas I donated the $375 to a Jose Fernandez charity, the JDF16 Foundation. In the early weeks of 2017, I received a care package from the charity. There were pictures of Jose as a child in Cuba, transcripts of his interviews, autographed baseball cards. People described him as boyish, life-of-the-party, courageous, community-minded, an advocate for children. There were no numbers, nothing redubile to bytes and pixels. Nobody mentioned his advanced peripheral sabermetrics.
I’m concerned we think about numbers too much. The era of Big Data has made any statistic available at a mouse-click, but it still hasn’t taught us what exactly to do with these numbers. (Reminds me of the Thoreau quote about telegraphs, viz. “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”) When athletes are reduced to numbers, they are reduced to commodities; when fans embrace numbers, they become owners, businesspeople, calculating without love. And friendship, which we meant to sustain through fantasy, becomes as fantastical and simulated as the Internet itself: algorithms replacing memory, emojis replacing hugs, GIFs replacing late-night phone calls. These days, when I think of Jose Fernandez, I think of high school mornings with Twatwaffle Muffcramps, or “Freaky Fred”: lemon Gatorade from Citgo, Rage Against the Machine woofering, Camel Lights for the “ciggy songs,” our plans, as smoke, coiling from the duct-taped windows of his 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier.
 ICYMI (somehow!): SIERA = 6.145 – 16.986(SO/PA) + 11.434(BB/PA) – 1.858((GB-FB-PU)/PA) + 7.653((SO/PA)^2) +/- 6.664(((GB-FB-PU)/PA)^2) + 10.130(SO/PA)((GB-FB-PU)/PA) – 5.195(BB/PA)*((GB-FB-PU)/PA)
James McAdams' debut short story collection, Ambushing the Void, has just been pre-published by Frayed Edge Press. He teaches literature at the University of South Florida, Ringling College of Art+Design, and Keep St. Pete Lit. He is Flash Fiction editor of Barren Magazine. Currently, he's working on a novel-in-flash about the opioid epidemic, entitled The Florida Shuffle; Or My Summer in Rat Park II: A Novel-in-Flash. You can find him at jamesmcadams.org and @jamestmcadams on Twitter/Insta.
Photo: Los Angeles, mid-70s, Joe Linker