I went by Wiley’s grave the morning after, stepped up to his headstone as if it were home plate, and instead of down looked up at the sky of that bright Thursday morning and said, “Wiley, you won’t believe this, but …”
The night before, in Game 7, his Cubs had won. Pigs flew. Icicles hung on hell’s awnings. And the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
Wiley Hilburn, a journalistic giant and friend who left this earth two baseball seasons ago, much too young at age 75, wore his Cubs hat right up until the untimely end. There were few things he loved more than conversation about the Cubs.
It’s a nice sentiment, but I don’t think people in heaven can see what’s happening on Earth to their loved ones or to their loved teams. Otherwise, they’d see the losses too, be sad, and there is no sadness in heaven. That’s not to say he won’t experience it one day, somehow, heaven being a miracle in itself. I hope he does.
A lot of Cubs lovers like Wiley died just a bit too soon to see the impossible happen. What a wonderful three weeks of playoffs they missed. The postseason was a joy for all who loved baseball, or for all who don’t necessarily love baseball but do love the Cubs. Wiley loved both. It made us happy to think of how he’d have acted this summer, and then this autumn as his team took on October.
But, the sad part . . .
The baseball joy of October overshadowed the baseball grief of September, when Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. The recent news that Fernandez had alcohol and cocaine in his system when he was killed does not make the death of the 24-year-old charismatic ballplayer any different; he is still a talented young man dead.
A young man with little athletic talent, dead, would be just as big a tragedy.
The point is, life is short. Even Wiley’s 75 years seemed short, to him and definitely to us, even though he milked a lot of mileage out of every trip around the sun. And he lived three times longer than Fernandez.
We know that life is short. It’s just that we seldom live like it.
I have liked Clint Hurdle for 40 years, since his picture was on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” with the caption, “This Year’s Phenom.” His playing career never blossomed, but he’s been solid as a manager, now of the Pittsburgh Pirates. His comments in the wake of Fernandez’s death echo Solomon’s message in Ecclesiastes.
“If you use your eyes and ears, there are reminders throughout your week that life’s short and you don’t call the shots,” Hurdle told reporters in September. “A sense of gratitude and a sense of joy needs to be more prevalent. In my experience with that young man (Fernandez) — I spent three-and-a-half hours with him on a dais at the baseball writers’ dinner in 2013; he was in very close proximity to me — he’s just a tremendously engaging young man. We had a lot of commentary that night.”
The two were at the dinner because Hurdle was Manager of the Year and Fernandez was Rookie of the Year. Hurdle has, as many of us have, already lived twice as long as Fernandez. We never know.
“I’ve been trying to live that life for a while now; I wasn’t always in that place,” Hurdle said. “It just makes all the more sense when things like this happen. Be where your feet are. Enjoy the moment. There’ll be a day when there won’t be another day.”
* Originally ran November 13, 2016
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