An open letter to Marlins rookie pitching sensation Jose Fernandez:
No cambies! Don’t change!
Don’t tone down. Not even a little. Ignore the purists and the critics. Keep being your exuberant self. Keep leading cheers from the dugout. Keep joking and laughing and engaging in conversations with opposing players. Keep jumping up and down and pumping your fists when your teammates hit home runs. Keep flashing that megawatt smile, the brightest smile around the Marlins clubhouse since another hot-shot rookie pitcher named Dontrelle Willis was making waves with his unorthodox delivery 10 years ago.
No cambies! Don’t change!
You felt like taking a second or two to stand at the plate and admire your first career home run as it cleared the fence last week? Who can blame you? You deserve that moment of joy, and then some. You were not disrespecting the Atlanta Braves. You are 20 years old and were celebrating a lifelong dream.
You went to hell and back to reach this country from Cuba. Three times you left your home in Santa Clara and set out on a boat seeking freedom. Three times you wound up back in Cuba, and the third time, at age 14, you were thrown in prison upon your return. You had gotten within view of the twinkling lights of the Miami skyline on that third attempt, but the Coast Guard intercepted your boat and sent you back. Finally, on the fourth attempt, after having to dive in the water to save your drowning mother, you made it to Mexico, and eventually to Tampa, where the Marlins spotted you.
So, by golly, go ahead and admire that home run. You earned that right. Your courage and persistence should be applauded.
You are the best thing to happen to the Marlins in a long time, and your unbridled affection for your sport is exactly what baseball needs. Athletes in other sports celebrate — and yes, sometimes do look cocky in doing so. Football players break into entertaining end-zone dances after scoring touchdowns. Soccer players around the world celebrate goals with all sorts of creative theatrics. Basketball players wag fingers and showboat. And did anyone around here have more fun while winning than the demonstrative University of Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s? They never hid their joy. They took football seriously, but not at the expense of having fun.
Same goes for Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Deion Sanders and the Heat’s Chris “The Birdman” Andersen, whose energy and wing-flapping took NBA playoff fun to a whole other level.
It’s fun to score. No need to hang your head down and round the bases with no emotion just because that’s some kind of unwritten baseball tradition. Despite all its statistics and history, baseball is a game. It’s a bunch of guys in funny pants and knee socks who hit and catch a ball and run around a diamond. Be yourself. As long as you’re not disrespectful, go for it!
OK, spitting toward the Braves’ Chris Johnson while passing third base was out of line. No need for that. But cocky grins from the mound? Taking a moment to soak in a career milestone homer? Go ahead.
“Jose is an emotional guy, that’s part of his game that is going to improve,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “We don’t want to take the ‘having fun’ aspect away from him. That’s what makes him him. But at the same time, I think maybe he can center that a little bit. That might be a part of his game he needs to look at, and maybe try to do something different.”