We said goodbye to our baseball brother Thursday night.
For 15 years, we vigorously competed with each other every day to be the first to break news.
Along the way, we forged a brotherhood of sorts – an unusual one considering that we were four baseball writers of different ages and backgrounds working for different media outlets.
I started covering the Marlins for The Palm Beach Post in 1999, roughly the same time that Clark Spencer started covering the team for the Miami Herald and Juan Rodriguez for the Sun Sentinel. Joe Frisaro came on the beat for mlb.com in 2002.
Until June of 2013, when I moved from the Marlins beat to the Palm Beach Post’s Metro Department, the four of us were a family of sorts for eight months every year. From spring training in February to the final game of the season in September or October, we often spent more time together than we did with our own families.
We sat within an arm’s reach of each other in the press box, through yawners and thrillers, no-hitters and World Series games and, until the team moved to Marlins Park in 2012, countless rain delays. We participated in pre-game and post-game interviews with more than 10 years of managers and players – from Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.
We often took the same flights to cities where the Marlins played. We usually shared taxi and subway rides to ballparks, along with too many lunches and dinners to remember.
Somehow, we managed to stay professional and friendly with each other, too – something that doesn’t always happen among competing beat writers in other baseball markets.
Each of us brought a peculiar personality to the mix, and I am convinced that the key ingredient to our unique chemistry was Juan Rodriguez.
He was the most quiet member of our group and probably the most talented — and the most humble. He had a gentle, laid-back demeanor that allowed him to develop key sources, consistently find fresh angles and work gracefully under the most intense deadline pressure.
Juan was the youngest in our group, too, which made it all the more tragic when we watched him collapse in the media room at the annual MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville in December 2012 – the first sign we had of what would result in a diagnosis of Grade IV glioblastoma multiforme.
Juan had surgery the next day in Nashville to remove a tumor from his brain. He was given six months, but he eventually returned to the beat and lived another three years.
Not once did we ever hear him complain “why me?”
He died Monday at the age of 42, leaving behind his wife, Tiffany, and their two children, Laura, 14, and Ryan, 12.
We gathered Thursday night to say goodbye at a Celebration of Life Service that served as a testament to how much he was loved and respected by friends, colleagues and the people he wrote about as a beat writer for more than 15 years.
More than 100 people attended the service at Christ the Rock Community Church in Cooper City, including Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who knew Juan as a Marlins coach and manager. Fredi flew in from Atlanta to pay his respects.
Also in attendance: Marlins general manager Mike Hill, assistant general manager Brian Chattin, former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, retired Marlins traveling secretary Bill “Boomer” Beck, Marlins vice president P.J. Loyello, the staff from the Marlins media relations department and Marlins radio play-by-play announcer Glenn Geffner.
Mike Berardino, a former Sun Sentinel baseball writer who spent several years covering the Marlins with Juan, flew in from Minnesota to deliver a eulogy.
Other speakers included Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde (who wrote a wonderful tribute to Juan) and Juan’s three long-time Marlins beat-writer brothers.
Most speakers walked to the podium alone. Clark, Joe and I walked up together and stood together. We were surrounded by Juan, whose image covered the front of the altar in dozens of photographs – portraits, pictures with his wife and two children, and images with his baseball family.
There were tears, but also plenty of laughter. Juan would have wanted it that way.
His legacy will live on in everyone he touched, including the beat writers who forged a unique baseball brotherhood with him, because he made all of us better.
We will always miss him and we will never forget him.