Baseball fans across the country, and likely the world have marveled at the dominance displayed by the Miami Marlin’s Cuban Rookie sensation, Jose Fernandez. Everybody that is, except the Atlanta Braves.
Wednesday night marked this second time in September Fernandez faced the NL East rival. The first time, despite his dominance, Fernandez was saddled with a rare loss. However, in what was determined by Marlins’ management as his last start of the season, Fernandez once again was dominant, tossing 7 innings of stellar baseball. His final 2013 appearance also happened to be the ballgame where the young man would absolutely crush his first career home run. It was the home run that set off certain Braves, and led to a benches clearing shoving match.
A lot of opinions have been thrown around about this. Some people think the kid needs to realize his place and standing in baseball. The Braves are certainly among them. Some people (Marlins fans), think the kid had every right to stop and stare at his first career homer.
At first, I found myself on the side of, what is the big deal. The kid is the next big thing among pitchers. He has maybe the nastiest slider I have ever seen. You could certainly argue the nasty slider point, I’ll admit, Aroldis Chapman’s is pretty sick. Not only is he among the NL’s best, but he’s pitching like no other rookie we’ve seen in years. If Fernandez wasn’t shut down after Wednesday, it would be as sure of a thing as the sun rising in the morning that the kid would reach the 200 strikeout threshold. His ERA would likely be under 2.50, if not under it’s current mark. Why get so upset over him admiring a home run then taking his time around the bases? We’ve seen plenty of pitchers, and hell, players who hit home runs take longer getting around the 360 feet of basepaths.
Then I read the artice ESPN put out there about Ferandez admitting to the immaturity he showed and his embarrassment towards the way he handled the situation. I thought, you know what, that’s a kid eating a piece of humble pie, realizing he just showed up the best team in baseball, when he plays on a team 30-some games under .500, on pace for yet another losing season on what has become a laughing stock of a franchise since the days of Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, etc, etc. So, then my attitude changed a little.
Now that I’ve thought about it for about an hour or so, I still don’t blame Fernandez for what he did. While I won’t defend his actions, because neither he nor his manager are, I don’t think Ferandez was completely unjustified in what he did. I did however, have a few issues with the way Chris Johnson handled himself in the whole mess.
First for Fernandez. There’s several reason I find him at little fault for the way he handled himself. There was a lot of emotion going into this game. Being his last start of an epic rookie campaign, the largest crowd at Marlins Park all season, and being against a Braves, the division rival jockeying for that number-one overall spot in the National League playoff hunt, there was a lot of buzz in the park and you could really feel it all night long. And why not? You’ve got one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball on the hill. Just an inning earlier their all-world right fielder blasted another mammoth home run in that jungle of a park. It was an exciting game. Just in case you were wondering, there just aren’t many of those in Miami. But it’s not like Fernandez was a late-June, early July call up and hasn’t been figured out yet. This kid was on the opening day roster. It took him about a month to really get his feet under him, but since, he’s done nothing but dominate big league hitters. So he’s got a little clout behind him. I wasn’t offended, pissed, or anything else that Fernandez decided to watch his first career homer fly over the left field fence.
Now there’s Chris Johnson. In my mind, and having grown up around the NL East and baseball in general, my first thought was, who is Chris Johnson? A guy that has played average baseball, on less than average teams for four years and change, until he comes to Atlanta and starts tearing it up.
I have my own theories on players who break out after several years in the big leagues, and absolutely does not involve HGH, steroids or any other PEDs — That’s another conversation for another day.
But Chris Johnson? Really?
I understand this is a guy who’s got a daddy who played big league ball. He’s a baseball junkie. He knows the do’s and don’ts of baseball. Great… so what? Did a simple action such as spitting as Fernandez rounds third really warrant him charging home plate while a veteran, established star like Brian McCann tries to straighten the kid out? I absolutely find that completely unnecessary, and frankly, I think Chris Johnson was the whole reason the benches cleared and things escalated.
McCann absolutely had the situation under control. He didn’t need Johnson making a be line to the plate just to show up the guy who just showed up his team. If you watch the video closer, you’ll notice Johnson fired up after the whole situation had calmed down. Why? Again, why? It was just unnecessary.
Unlike some Cuban players, Fernandez has spent a little time in America. So should he probably know better than to show up his opposition in that situation? Yea, he probably should. But we’ve seen with these Cubans, (Yasiel Puig in particular) they are very emotional players. And quite truthfully, the exposure to professional American baseball there(in Cuba) is very limited. So how are they supposed to know the way you handle yourself in that situation? These guys are on a very short learning curve, and society is not giving them time to adjust to the way things are done here. When you host a foreign exchange student, do you expect them to know all the rituals and the way things are done in your home in a quick three month stint? No. These guys are just like that.
In a brief, side editorial, I am tired of people expecting these Cuban players, fresh to America and American baseball, to understand how things are done, when they’ve had little exposure. They need time, guidance and little understanding thrown their way when they don’t do things viewed by us as “normal” all the time.
While I don’t think he was completely at fault, at the end of the day, I was very pleased to see Fernandez take responsibility for his actions. I think he showed a lot of maturity, ate some humble pie, and most importantly, I’m glad he approached the two guys he showed up the most, in Mike Minor and Brian McCann, and apologize and say he has learned his lesson and it won’t happen again. That folks, is a good kid, with his head screwed on straight. And unlike a lot of apologies, (*cough**cough*RyanBraun*cough**cough*) I actually believe he genuinely, and wholeheartedly means it.
I’ve been a big fan of Fernandez for a while now, and this whole thing makes me like him even more. Unfortunately, I believe he will be a thorn in the side of my Mets for years and years to come. But without a doubt, one exciting player, and one I’m looking forward to watching dominate baseball for years to come.