Minutes after making the playoffs Friday night, Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly tried and tried to put it into perspective. He said the players believed back in the spring, even if no baseball expert did, and "That's where it started."
He said their COVID-19 nightmare - call it COVID-18 for the number of Marlins quarantined from the team - brought a message of dealing with adversity that, "the team that handles this the best will get through it the best."
Mattingly, who will be manager of the year this season for his good work, then talked of going from 50 wins last year to coming out on the other side of this latest Marlins rebuild this year.
"Fifty wins is not fun in any way shape or form," he said. "You still have to have the vision as a manager like, 'Where are we going?' You feel like you're in a boat in the middle of the ocean, and you have no idea where the land is but you know it's out there.
"So you keep heading down the road. Believing that it's there. Believing it's going to turn. Believing we were going to be the organization we want to be."
Finally, Mattingly recalled the odd timeline of this odd franchise, one full of problems and mistakes and heartbreak in a manner that's still heartbreaking. Pitcher Jose Fernandez died four years ago Friday. Mattingly wears a bracelet and changed his workout routines from 15 repetitions to 16 (Fernandez's number) in remembrance.
"The emotions come out," Mattingly said. "(You) start thinking about Jose four years ago, what we've been through here, the whole thing, all of a sudden comes out."
It's safe to go to the ballpark again when it's safe to go there. That was the big message of this Marlins season. Baseball has done everything to turn off a fan base willing to be turned off. There's no need to go into chapter and verse of this. Everyone knows the problems.
This odd, often uncomfortable season has brought the solution.
"Hopefully this is the very beginning of it," Mattingly said. "We know we've got a lot of young guys coming. The pitchers are young. We wanted to be build a culture that was a winning environment, that guys like playing in, that was fun."