By SIMON BRADY
José Fernandez was a superstar in every sense of the word. The standout Miami Marlins starting pitcher passed away in a boating accident early Sunday morning, Sept. 25. The Coast Guard found Fernandez with two of his close friends on Fernandez’s fishing boat. All three were pronounced dead at around 3:30 a.m. after crashing into a jetty on Miami Beach.
His personality touched family, friends, coaches and teammates. He displayed immense perseverance during his inspirational journey and numerous attempts to defect from his home in Santa Clara, Cuba to the U.S. He never lost his dream of reuniting with his stepfather and playing in the MLB.
At age 13, Fernandez’s stepfather Roman Jimenez journeyed from Cuba to Tampa after fourteen attempts. Fernandez and his mother eventually joined him two years later. His heart and courage would be tested at a young age. Fernandez and his mother’s first three attempts came to no avail. While trying to arrive in Miami, the Cuban Coast Guard caught Fernandez and his mother. The Cuban government proceeded to put Fernandez in prison for a year for this escape bid.
Fernandez and his mother later decided to take try a route other than Miami. On the fourth trip, the two traveled north to Mexico along with a dozen other defectors. During this trip, Fernandez noticed a body overboard sixty feet from his boat. Without hesitation, Fernandez jumped in and saved the struggling individual. Little did he know, it was his mother, Maritza, who had fallen overboard.
The moment Fernandez noticed the body he retrieved in the water was his mother, his life had changed instantaneously. Fernandez shared this incredible experience with the Miami Herald in 2013. “If that does not leave a mark on you for the rest of your life, I don’t know what will.”
Eventually the two reached Mexico, then proceeded to the Texas border, which lead to permanently settling in Tampa. Not long after arriving, the talented pitcher would become a baseball sensation.
In three years with the Miami Marlins, debuting in April 2013, he posted a 2.58 career earned run average, tallied 589 strikeouts, and gave up a mere 135 earned runs in 471.1 innings pitched. These incredible stats earned him two All Star appearances. He also won National League Rookie of the Year in 2013 at the age of 21.
The Miami Marlins organization and players in particular were shocked at the death of their brother. In an Instagram post, one of Fernandez’s closest teammates Giancarlo Stanton wrote on Fernandez’s unwavering passion and spirit that touched all those who knew him through all his walks of life. “What he meant to me, our team, the City of Miami, Cuba and everyone in the world that had his enthusiasm and heart has touched can never be replaced,” Stanton said in the post. “I’m still waiting to wake up from this nightmare. I can’t fathom what his family is going through because we, as an extended family, are a wreck.”
Standout L.A. Dodger and fellow Cuban native Yasiel Puig summarized his experience battling against Fernandez in a tweet following the accident, bringing both Fernandez’s fun-loving personality and superstar talent to light. “You loved striking me out and teasing me about it,” Puig said in the tweet. “I’m going to miss you bro.”
Closer to home, the UT community and the baseball program are greatly impacted and saddened by Fernandez’s death. As much national recognition as his death has received, it is a huge local story in Tampa. Fernandez attended Braulio Alonso High School, which is only twenty minutes from campus.
Spartans senior shortstop Kevin Santa commented on what he learned from his experience. “What I most admire is how mentally strong he was at a young age,” said Santa. “I want to be like him as a baseball player or wherever I am working at.”
Another Spartan baseball player, senior second baseman Laz Rivera, is especially affected by Fernandez’s death, being a Cuban native himself. “It’s a totally different culture,” Rivera said. “He left his grandma behind to follow his dream, and on top of that he had to learn a new language, adapt to the American lifestyle, waking up everyday not knowing how his loved ones were doing in Cuba.”
Rivera also spoke on how his final season in a Spartan uniform will now be cherished more than ever. “This is my last year playing college baseball and that was definitely a life lesson and inspiration to me,” Rivera said. “Any game could be your last game. José enjoyed every single chance he got to be at the field because he knew how hard it was for him to get that far.”
Along with the rest of the baseball world, Rivera and his teammates were shocked when they heard the news that Sunday morning. “No one could believe it actually happened. He always stood out since high school so we kind of felt this connection, watching a young player work his way up in the MLB.”
In such tragic fashion, Jose Fernandez life was taken far too short. Only time can heal the Miami Marlins, Braulio Alonso High School, and most importantly his loved ones in this difficult time. However, when they look back and celebrate his life, there’s satisfaction in knowing he made a profound lasting impact on and off the field.
Simon Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org