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Tragic loss of Jose Fernandez leaves us wondering what might have been

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Jose Fernandez's potential was unlike any other (2:30)

Pedro Gomez breaks down the enormous potential Jose Fernandez possessed as a young pitcher and details his significance to Cubans. (2:30)

Let's hope that someday, when we think of Jose Fernandez, we can remember the smile, we can remember the charisma, we can remember the special joy he brought to every day he ever spent on a baseball field.

But right now, it's just too hard to get beyond the sadness. How do we even put that sadness into words as we try to process the incomprehensible news of the passing of one of baseball's shining stars, at the far-too-young age of 24?

We will always have Fernandez's remarkable numbers to remind us of what he had already accomplished in a career that would last a mere 76 trips to a big league mound. But how do we measure what it is we've lost, what the Miami Marlins have lost, what the sport of baseball has lost?

Where was this man heading in life? Where was he heading in baseball? It's like asking, "How high is the sky?" Because for Jose Fernandez, life had no limits. Every day, he looked at the world and thought, "Why not?" Ask anyone who ever spent five minutes around him. They would be the first to tell you there were four words in the dictionary he could never accept:

That. Can't. Be. Done.

So of course he made it out of Cuba, no matter how many attempts it took. Of course he jumped straight from the Florida State League to the big leagues at 20 years old. Of course he made it back from Tommy John surgery in just 13 months and looked as if he'd never missed a start. Of course he would make 42 starts at home in his career and lose only two of them.

This was the essence of Jose Fernandez. He approached every day thinking only of what he could do, what he would do. His world was filled only with possibilities. So on this day, the cloud above us is darkened by all those painful thoughts of what might have been. And it's going to take a very long time to stop asking ourselves that question: What might he have been had he lived the rich, full life he deserved?

He could have been Pedro Martinez. He was that talented. He was that unique. He was that irrepressible. He had that much natural pitching genius inside of him.

Four years into his career, he had an ERA+ of 150 -- which is incredible. If you're not familiar with that stat, it compares each pitcher to the other pitchers of his time, and the average pitcher is graded at 100. So that tells you how much better Fernandez was than anyone around him.

But maybe this will tell you more: Among right-handed pitchers whose careers began since World War II, do you know how many had a better ERA+ through 70 starts or more? That would be none. Zero. Behind Fernandez you'll find the likes of Dwight Gooden, Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens. Fernandez was off to a greater career start than all of them. Wow.

But with this man, the "what might have been" scenarios shouldn't merely be confined to what he could have accomplished on a pitcher's mound. This was a guy who was going to make a mark on the planet.

People were drawn to him. People who spanned every spectrum of American life. His teammates. His coaches. The Latino community of South Florida. Kids. And when he pitched, when "Jose Day" arrived in Miami, there was nothing like it. Nothing.

In the 2014 and '15 seasons, his starts in Miami drew an average of 26,938 ticket buyers. When anyone else pitched, the average attendance was 21,113. That difference computes to 27.6 percent more customers roaring through the turnstiles when Fernandez pitched than for any other game.

He would bounce around the field on those days with the joy of a kid ripping open his birthday presents. His chance to take that baseball and work his magic couldn't come soon enough. And that exuberance rubbed off on everyone who laid eyes on him.

"He's unique," his first manager, Mike Redmond, once told me. "He's not the kind of guy where you come in and he's sitting at his locker with his game face on and you can't talk to him. I mean, he's hitting in the cage, he's bunting in the cage, he's in my office, he's sitting on the couch, he's talking to me about a couple of hitters. Then he's out, and he's back in. He's joking with the guys. He's all over the place.

"So he's unique. I never played with a guy like that, man. And that's how he is every day. ... Just that day that he gets the ball, he can't wait. He just really loves to pitch."

There is nothing sadder, in life or in sports, than unfulfilled potential. So to have the life of this man -- with this sort of talent, this much possibility, this sense of joy, this unending love of living every day -- be cut short so soon, it is even harder to comprehend than it is to accept.

Maybe someday, we'll be able to focus again on that talent and that joy. But right now, this just feels like one of the saddest sports stories of our lifetimes.