09/16/2013 06:39 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2013

Miami Marlins Pitcher Shows Us What an Apology Should Look Like

Miami Marlins rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez did something exceedingly rare last week. And yet few sportswriters or commentators acknowledged it.

He showed us what an apology should look like.

Fernandez, the 19-year-old Cuban sensation who has had one of the best seasons of any rookie pitcher in decades, defeated the Atlanta Braves, 5-2, who have the best record in the National League.

In the game's sixth inning, Fernandez came to bat against Atlanta pitcher Mike Minor and hit his first major league home run. Fernandez then dropped his bat, stood at home plate, and watched the ball clear the wall before trotting around the bases. This bit of self-indulgence, known as "showing up the pitcher," is the equivalent of raising a middle finger at the pitcher's mound.

The gesture predictably angered the Braves players. When Fernandez got to the third base, third baseman Chris Johnson said something to Fernandez, who responded by spitting on the dirt near Johnson's direction, and continued toward home plate, where he was met by the Braves catcher Brian McCann. McCann took off his catcher's mask and began jawing at Fernandez.

Both benches emptied, but the game resumed without a Braves' pitcher retaliating by throwing at a Florida hitter. But that would most certainly come in another game.

What Fernandez did during the game was loutish but hardly rare. We've come to expect such graceless stunts from athletes - and, for that matter, from politicians, celebrities, and from all those reality show wannabes among us who desperately try to keep up with the Kardashians.

It was what Fernandez did after that game that is exceedingly rare.

He apologized - first to Johnson on the field and then to Minor and McCann in the hallway outside the Atlanta locker room - and then to everyone else.

During the post-game press conference, Fernandez had hoped to talk about his victory, which made his season record, 12-6. His earned-run-average of 2.19 is the second best in the major leagues and his 187 strikeouts are among the best.

The visibly contrite pitcher, however, told reporters he was embarrassed by what he did after hitting his home run.

"I feel I don't deserve to be here because this isn't high school no more. This is a professional game, and I should be a professional player," he said. "I'm embarrassed, and hopefully it will never happen again. I made a mistake. I want to learn from it."

Fernandez then repeated what was said in his verbal exchange with McCann. McCann, an All-Star teammate of Fernandez's, said, "Buddy, you can't do that." Fernandez said he replied, "I know, man. The game got the best of me."

Upon watching the press conference on ESPN, I couldn't help but reflect on all the sorry behavior of athletes whose offenses are regularly reported on the network. I couldn't help but think about how apologies have become the last retort of disgraced athletes - including Ryan Braun, Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Pete Rose, Serena Williams, and on and on.

Unlike the aforementioned athletes, Fernandez's act of contrition did not come after weeks or years of denial. It was not choreographed by a high-priced public relations firm. Nor was it a desperate act to preserve what was left of a soiled reputation.

Fernandez made a mistake, acknowledged his mistake, admitted the mistake, and said he would learn from it.

Let's hope Fernandez will learn from his mistake.

Maybe this will serve as a lesson not just for athletes but for the rest of us.

Chris Lamb, a professor of journalism at the University of Indiana-Indianapolis, serves on the staff of the National Sports Journalism Center