Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rounding Third

As a pedigree analyst, racing writer, blogger, and president of eMatings and Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Sid Fernando is an imposing social media presence. Sid rarely (if ever) sleeps, and he uses Twitter as an outlet to channel the thoughts in his ever-busy mind at all hours of the day and night. Horseracing, pedigree matters, exotic food, waiting for hours in his car for alternate side parking to come into effect -- no topic is off limits for Sid. Consequently, he has made over 1,500 friends, from people in his borough of Brooklyn to those who live across the world. He has bonded with fellow insomniacs, with people who unwittingly step in cat vomit (in Sid’s case, often barefoot, and with photo evidence), and others with a like tendency to spill something on their clean white shirts. Of his Twitter acquaintances, he knows just a few, including me, in person.

Sid was bloodstock editor and columnist at Daily Racing Form for many years, but when a close friend counseled him not to miss out on a single moment of his young children's lives, he took the advice to heart and left the paper to focus on raising his sons.
John and Joe grew up wearing baseball gloves, with the dust of the infield diamond dirtying their pants, swinging bats and rounding bases. Sid was there for it all, as a coach and travel manager for the Brooklyn Bulldogs youth baseball team -- which won the national championship in 2007 -- until he stepped down last summer.
Johnny and Joe were among the team’s star players, on and off the field. The Billy Zitelli Award, named for a highly talented Bulldog who passed away of leukemia in 2000 at the age of 14, was given to John in 2008 and to Joe in 2010. That both boys won this award, bestowed upon the player recognized as “the heart and soul of [his] team -- a great competitor, a good winner, a feared opponent, and a good friend” -- is a testament to the values Sid and his wife Cynthia instilled in them.

John and Joe Fernando

John and Joe continued to play ball after they outgrew the Bulldogs, but last year John reached an age where he wanted to explore other options, to forge his own path.
Sid inwardly felt this was the end of a chapter for himself, that he was losing his son. He soon realized instead that Johnny had turned into a fine, interesting, and engaging young man, and he spent time getting to know and respect him from a different perspective.
And because his parents gave him the freedom to try new things, John learned this: that he truly loved baseball. Before long, and to his father’s delight, he started asking Sid to practice ball with him again.
Sid’s many Twitter friends followed along on the journey, usually through baseball, he took with his boys. His fatherly pride was evident when he wrote about them -- Johnny, who was going to play ball in college after graduating from high school this year; and Joe, now completing his first year at a boarding school he chose for its baseball team.
Last Saturday, Johnny played in a pre-season Beacon High School game. Many of his teammates were boys Sid had coached and mentored during their Bulldog days, and even Joe was in town from school in Massachusetts. As always, Sid posted photos and updates on Twitter. It was Sid’s dream day, one that he’ll remember as perhaps one of his happiest.
On Sunday, John fell down some stairs and sustained a serious, 8-inch laceration on his arm. His baseball career was probably over, but at 17, Johnny -- bright, sensitive, and very well-liked among his peers -- was college bound, with the promise of any future he chose ahead of him. Music, perhaps; he loved music, and had recorded some demos.
It was not to be. When John Fernando died tragically on March 19, 2011, in his place went up a wall of grief for his parents, family, and many friends.

Twitter exploded with sadness for the Fernando family. One of Sid's friends (who blogs as Pull the Pocket) summed it up this way: "1600+ people are sad. That's what happens when you're a good man."
But also, we feel like we knew Johnny. It was only in a slightly shocking and surreal moment while coming to terms with John’s death that I realized I’ve never met Cynthia, John, or Joe. Sid’s eloquence in describing their daily trials and tribulations brought his family, and his palpable love for them, to life.
Requiescat in pace, John Fernando, who touched and enriched the lives of more people around the world than he will ever know.
Sid posted this on Saturday: Thanks for all notes, emails. I'm touched. A week ago today, JF was on 3rd; today he couldn't make it home.