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Dee Gordon’s home run was the perfect tribute to Jose Fernandez

Dee Gordon made America cry on Monday night, and the moment will be there in 50 years when you want to cry again.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While there’s a great chance that Dee Gordon’s home run on Monday will be the most emotional baseball moment any of us will ever witness, it’s not a great idea to power rank emotional moments. That’s doubly true when you’re in close proximity to one of them. Pitting Gordon’s home run against, say, Mike Piazza’s post-9/11 home run is like having a debate between food and water. They’re both necessary. They both win.

Instead of using superlatives like "the most," then, let’s just agree Gordon’s home run is part of a very exclusive subset of baseball moments, one of the most powerful supernovas of raw human emotion we will ever see at a ballpark. It’s hard to imagine anything like it, an instant tribute to Jose Fernandez that devastated a million people who assumed they were already as devastated as they would get. Before the 360-foot trip of pure catharsis began, I wasn’t sure how Gordon, how anyone, could pretend to be composed out there. It turns out they were just hanging on, just propped up enough to pretend they were fine.

The only thing that hurts more than watching this is not watching it, unless it’s the other way around:

The entire night was handled beautifully by the Marlins organization — organic, simple, gorgeous, raw. During the game, the Marlins and their home crowd reinforced each other, held each other up. After the game, the players went back to the mound because they had to, acutely aware of how the night got progressively lonelier and lonelier.

The healing will advance in different ways for everyone. But while the five stages of grief is probably oversimplified, most of us would agree that there is a progression. For most of us, the people touched by Fernandez, even though we never met him, we’ll tear up when we watch a highlight for a while, but we’ll have the luxury of detaching much sooner than the people close to him. That’s not cynical; that’s just how it works. In about a month, we’ll be arguing about a bat flip in the World Series, or something equally as silly, as if any of it means a damned thing. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled lives, hard as ever, filled with frivolities and fun and genuine heartbreak, spoken fears piled under unspoken fears, maybe with a little hope mixed in. But we’ll get to return to all of that a lot sooner to the people who were close to Fernandez.

The people close to Fernandez will wear the devastation forever, a hole right through the middle of them that will whistle when the wind blows a certain way, which it will every day for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the rawness will fade, callous over, and become something entirely different. It’s the difference between a demon actively stabbing you with a pitchfork and a demon sitting on your shoulder whispering things you don’t want to hear. It never becomes a passive little sucker. It just shifts forms.

And in the future it probably would have been time for all of us to remember the immediacy of the grief, remember that rawness. It was going to be tough for anyone to place themselves right in the middle of it. It would be abstract. Probably because our brains usually do a fine job building up those emotional ramparts, and we’re happy to have the help. Yet that doesn’t mean that it’s unhealthy to remember the emotions, the pure, unfiltered sorrow and despair. There will be a perfect time and place for that, no, perfect times and places, whether that’s next week or 50 years from now.

Gordon’s home run is the monument sticking out of that point in time now. It’s the unmistakeable beacon jutting out of the ground, a waypoint we can return to again and again and again when we want to remember the uncut devastation as it was. And it didn’t have to happen. It’s not like if Gordon’s home run didn’t happen, we’d have to invent it. There wouldn’t have been that one moment where we remembered just how it felt. We weren’t going to revisit the calls or the texts or the news reports or the tweets or however we all found out. There wasn’t going to be a video of what was going on inside your head for the first five minutes, the first hour, the first day, something easy to rewind and replay again.

There’s Gordon’s home run, though. Think of it in contrast to the planned tribute, the gesture Gordon made at the beginning of the at-bat in honor of Fernandez. He put on a right-hander’s helmet and stepped in from the right side, taking a pitch as a way to physically acknowledge his friend. It was touching, but it was a tribute that existed because Gordon didn’t know what else he could do. He might have preferred to stop the game, lie on home plate, and just stare at the sky for an hour, but he knew he had to get up and play baseball eventually. Taking one pitch — and danged if he didn’t look like he was thinking about swinging -- as a right-handed batter was a touching gesture. But we wouldn’t look back on it and be transported right back to the emotional hurricane.

With the home run, we’re there, and we always will be there, and I’m not sure if there will ever be a way not to tear up when watching the video of Gordon losing it before he steps on home plate. It was a player who usually doesn’t have the strength to hit a home run doing the strongest thing I’ve ever watched on a baseball field. That it was Gordon added to the mythology of it all. It doesn’t take a spiritual mindset to appreciate because you can describe it in a cold, scientific way and it’s still breathtaking: It was a moment of unmistakeable power from an unlikely source.

It was a moment of unmistakeable power that guarantees we’ll remember just how this all felt at the time. We were going to remember it in some capacity, but not with this kind of focus and clarity. Gordon reminded the rest of the baseball world that it was still OK to be emotionally fragile and raw, and he’ll be there, a fixed point on the mountain range of time, when we want to be reminded of it again.

Jose Fernandez was never going to be forgotten. But Dee Gordon made sure that we’ll never forget what it was like to experience the loss. It didn’t have to happen. It was a ball that was 75 millimeters in diameter thrown at 86 miles per hour from 60 feet away, and the hitter using a round bat about 2½ inches in diameter had homered on exactly eight of the 8,300 pitches he’d seen in his major league career.

It didn’t have to happen, no. But it did. And we’ll just go ahead and remember it as one of the most special baseball moments we’ll ever see, which means it was probably the best possible way to honor one of the most special players we’ll ever see.

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Jose Fernandez was a baseball fan just like us