Reflections on a long, hard Sunday in Sports

Sunday shook me sideways and I know I wasn't alone. If it didn’t make you wonder, I'd wonder what was wrong with you. If it didn’t make you cry, you may need new tear ducts. If it didn’t make you think, I wouldn’t know what to think of you.

Sunday rose in the East and arced its angry way across our sky. It produced a complex, dawn-to-dusk, cacophony of emotions that landed my byline back on A-1 of Monday’s Los Angeles Times.

This was interesting given I had parted ways with the grey lady last December.

I knew golfing legend Arnold Palmer was going to die, and that I had written his “advance” obit several years ago. This is a necessary, preemptive duty at big city newspapers.

I knew I had left behind a few obits of famous people that were going to reconnect me to the paper where I worked for more almost four decades. I knew this reconnect would always be associated with someone’s death.

What I didn’t know was that Palmer was going to die THIS Sunday, on the same day a 24-year old rising star from the Florida baseball Marlins would be taken in a boating accident.

A young life, and a perfect life, snuffed out within hours.

I didn’t know Arnie was going out on the same day Vin Scully announced his last home game for the Dodgers, which ended with a walk-off homer by a journeyman player.

Or, that the fickle finger of fate would strike two days after Kevin Costner saluted Scully, at Dodger Stadium, to the soundtrack of “Field of Dreams.”

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It seemed ridiculous someone named Charlie Culberson could hit a home run to clinch the division and send baseball's greatest announcer off with the perfect send-off gift. Or, that Vin would then acknowledge the crowd, one last time, after 67 years, by singing “Wing Beneath My Wings.”

And this all happened before Palmer’s death was announced later in the evening.

It was a lot to absorb.

In the morning, a stadium in South Florida was empty in honor of a young pitcher, Jose Fernandez, who had been killed in a boating accident on his off day.

Why? Why? Why?

Tears of sadness, but mostly joy, for Scully, while former Dodger manager Don Mattingly wiped away tears at a Marlins' press conference.

Mixed emotions for Palmer, too, but mostly happily reflections for one of the grandest lives, start to finish, that was ever breathed.

Why wasn’t a Cuban phenom allowed to fulfill the dream journey afforded octogenarians Scully and Palmer?


These are questions for which there are no immediate answers, but it sure was easier to ask them on a day when everything unfolded within hours.

Scully was a skinny kid from New York who fell in love with baseball 80 years ago as he walked by a radio broadcast of the New York Giants. It ignited a spark that forged a magical path from Fordham, to Brooklyn, to Los Angeles, to us, and Cooperstown.

Scully was a gift to us, but no more potentially inspirational than Jose Fernandez was to Cuba and Cuban Americans.

Palmer also came from humble beginnings, the son a greens keeper in Latrobe, Pa., whose raw strength came from turning a tractor wheel and beating golf shots out of hard dirt.

How could this boy rise from nothing to world-wide fame? Why did Palmer make it and not his friend, Buddy Worsham?

Palmer followed Worsham to Wake Forest only to see his life cut short, in 1950, by an auto accident. Palmer was so devastated he ultimately left to join the Coast Guard.

And, yet, the rest was HIS history.

Fernandez was on that kind of hall-of-fame track. He could have been the Arnold Palmer of Cuba.

How do you beat the story of a man who made the 90-mile gamble to better the life of his family for generations to come?

Fernandez, like Palmer, could have filled a warehouse of trophies and mementos.

“There was still so much that he had to give,” LA Times sports editor Angel Rodriguez, who is of Cuban descent, wrote in Monday’s paper. “There was still so much joy he was meant to provide us.”

The news of Fernandez’s death hit my baseball-fan boys hard. They are all in their 20s and spent Sunday texting each other, from different locations, as I watched NFL football.

My middle son, 23, and a former collegiate golfer, went off midday for his job as a caddie in Orange County.

He kept his Fernandez emotions contained all day.

It was only after he returned home Sunday night that he lost it.

Here’s the thing: it was Arnold Palmer’s death that made him bust up. The man who won his last PGA Tour event 20 years before he was born.

It’s tough when fathers don’t have answers for their kids.

Aren't we supposed to have the answers?

All I could do was offer a "dad" hug and wake up Monday to read Palmer’s amazing life story again, below the fold, on the front page.

A story I wrote years ago, for the paper I left months ago.

Who needs that hug now?[/membership]