Baseball continues to mourn the loss of one of its biggest and brightest stars…
Early last Sunday morning, Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and two friends were killed when the boat they were in hit an ocean jetty off Miami Beach. Investigators reported the boat was traveling at a high rate of speed and Fernandez was killed on impact. He was 24 years old.
Jose Fernandez made his major league debut only three years ago, but he had an immediate impact on the game with his amazing mix of pitches and his bigger-than-life personality. He was selected as the 14th pick in the 2011 draft and wasted no time in becoming one of the dominant pitchers in the league. Fernandez’s 2013 season, in which he went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and struck out 187 hitters, ranks among the best for a pitcher that young in the history of the sport. He won the National League rookie of the year award and finished third in the Cy Young voting. In 2014 he was sidelined with an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery and didn’t pitch again until July 2015. Fully healthy heading into 2016, he completely re-established his form and became an all-star again.
The stats speak for themselves, but it was Fernandez’s passion for life and complete joy for the game that set him apart.
“When he pitched … you just see that little kid that you see when you watch kids play Little League or something like that. That’s the joy that Jose played with.” ~ Marlin’s coach Don Mattingly
So where did all this joy come from? Gratitude. Jose grew up in Cuba where and he and his family longed for the freedoms of America. Having failed 3 attempts to defect (after which he was briefly jailed), he and his family made it on their 4th try. During the harrowing boat ride his mother fell overboard and had to be rescued. Jose, not even knowing who had fallen in, jumped in to save her.
The family soon settled in Tampa where Jose played high school baseball, but acclimation to American culture was difficult. He didn’t know how to use a computer. He didn’t understand how to use cell phones. His English was poor. He didn’t understand buffets, free refills or why kids laughed at him. So he settled into what he did know, baseball and the world opened up.
Stardom and success didn’t affect Jose, however. He appreciated everything he had and he made sure to give back. He supported ALS charities and made himself available to local kids, touring them around the ballpark before every home game. What he gave to me was a newfound appreciation for a game where big contracts and PEDs have stripped away its integrity. He also gave me that awesome smile.
I hate the dreaded “perspective” moments – but I hate the “what could have been” moments even more. #RIPnumber16