Promising Pitcher Jose Fernandez Passes Away at Age 24
by Dan Colombo on Friday, October 21st, 2016
On September 25th, 2016, Marlins fans woke to the worst news they could have imagined: their star pitcher, José Fernandez, had passed away. Fernandez had decided to go on a boating excursion the night before and, unable to find any other Marlins players to accompany him, called a friend named Eduardo Rivero to tag along.
In recalling a conversation that he had with Rivero about Fernandez, Will Bernal, a friend of Rivero, mentions that Fernandez “was stressed and wanted to go out.” Fernandez and Rivero boarded Fernandez’s boat at the Cocoplum Yacht Club at around 12 AM and made their way towards the American Social bar, arriving at 12:55 AM. From the bar they were joined by a friend of Rivero, Emilio Macias. After leaving Biscayne Bay, where the bar is located, Fernandez and the other two men reboarded the boat and drove towards Miami Beach.
However, at around 3:20 AM, Fernandez and the others, with limited visibility, did not see a jetty between them and their destination and collided with it. The boat overturned and all three of the men were killed by the crash. Fernandez was 24 years old and in the midst of only his fourth season in the MLB with the Miami Marlins.
Despite his short career in the MLB, Fernandez fought harder than anybody to get where he was. Originally born in Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez started playing baseball from a young age. He was raised alongside his sister by his mother and stepfather.
In 2005, when Fernandez was just 13 years old, his father defected from Cuba, but Fernandez failed in various attempts to follow him. It took his father 14 attempts to finally succeed in defecting. Fernandez was unsuccessful in defecting three times and was once put in jail despite being under 18.
According to theheavy.co.uk, Jose Fernandez commented on his experience in jail and said, “I have no idea how I would even describe it in English, but believe me, you don’t want to know. To them, their lives were already over. What did it matter to them if they killed you? That’s just one more murder.”
Finally in 2007, Fernandez, along with his mother and sister, successfully defected from Cuba. While on the boat, Fernandez noticed someone had fallen overboard and was drowning and jumped into the water to save her. He ultimately found out that it was his mother whom he had saved. The boat reached Mexico, and from there the family made it to Texas, finally settling in Tampa in 2008.
Fernandez attended school in Tampa at the Braulio Alonso High School where he played baseball and won two state championships with the team during his sophomore and senior years. However, before his senior season, Fernandez was ruled ineligible to play, as he was already drawing MLB attention from the Cincinnati Reds, who wanted to sign him.
Despite his MLB prospects, Fernandez appealed the ruling and was later named eligible and ended that season with a 13-1 overall record, two no-hitters, 134 strikeouts, 2.35 ERA (earned runs against), and a state title. The next year he was drafted by the Marlins in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft as the 14th pick. He played minor league baseball until his rookie season in 2013.
Fernandez stunned the world as a rookie. In his rookie season, Fernandez was named an All-Star — representing the Marlins — and was the National League Rookie of the Year. Fernandez also had the highest strikeout rate in the National League: his first season with 9.75 strikeouts per 9 innings.
According to Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays’ manager, “José Fernández [may have] [been] the best young pitcher I’ve ever seen, at that age.” After his rookie season, Fernandez didn’t play much for the following two seasons after suffering a torn UCL in 2014, due to recovery. In 2016, Fernandez made the all-star game again, led the league in strikeouts per nine innings with 12.5 strikeouts, and broke the Marlins season record of strikeouts with 253. His career statistics were 589 strikeouts, 38 wins and 17 losses, and a 2.89 ERA. Fernandez had a promising career ahead of him.
Jose Fernandez’s story can inspire us all. Fernandez showed the world that anything is possible. Who would have ever thought that a kid from Cuba who struggled to make it to America for years and years, finally reaching it with nothing but his family, could ever be successful doing what he loved? His story shows that no matter who you are, or where you come from, you can do anything you set your mind to. Fernandez’s legacy will forever be known as doing what you love and having fun with it, much like how he showed everyone how much he loved baseball and how much fun he had playing the game.
As said by David Schoenfield, a writer for ESPN, “There were cries to allow him to be elected to the Hall of Fame or name an award after him. But this should be Fernandez’s lasting legacy: Keeping baseball fun again.” Hopefully, Fernandez will have an award named after him or will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but even more powerful will be his lasting legacy to all baseball players.
The day after his tragic passing, a bag of baseballs signed by Fernandez washed up on Miami Beach. That same night, in the Marlins game, every player on the team wore number 16, Fernandez’s jersey number. During the game, in the first inning, the first batter for the Marlins, Dee Gordon, faced the pitcher right-handed despite being a left-handed hitter, in honor of Fernandez. He then switched to the left side and sent his second pitch into the stands for his first homerun of the season. He returned to the dugout in tears and was greeted by the tears of teammates and fans. Gordon pounded his chest and looked up to the sky in tribute to Fernandez. What a fitting and powerful goodbye for Miami’s golden boy.
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