By: Aaron Carter
Jose Fernandez was one of the MLB’s most fascinating pitchers to watch the last four years. He was the epitome of a lively Latin American ball player. He would always have a smile on his face; no matter what odds he faced on or off the mound. This overt love for the game was admirable and extremely refreshing in the game of baseball, which has been recently criticized as a “white man’s sport” by Adam Jones and others. Despite these claims of racial tensions within the MLB, the baseball world, at least in Miami, came to a screeching halt when news broke Sunday morning of Fernandez’s boating accident that resulted in his passing. This is indicative of the massive effect Fernandez had on the league in the short amount of time he was a part of it.
Fernandez was a great player who had gobs of potential, which made it very sad to see him pass away not only for his family and friends, but also for the league and the league’s fans. The world unfortunately missed what would most likely have been a decade of Fernandez’ personality and skill being showcased 60 feet and six inches from home plate.
Whether it was striking batters out with his upper 90s fastball or his devastating slider, Fernandez was dominant. In four seasons with the Marlins, Fernandez posted a 38-17 record, a 2.58 ERA, and 589 strikeouts (accumulated at the third highest rate in MLB history according to mlb.com). He also won National League Rookie of the Year in 2013, and attended the All-Star Game in 2013 and 2016. He was known around the league as one of the best pitchers in the big leagues, and this was still after missing almost two full consecutive seasons (2014 and 2015) due to injury. It was also a very impressive compliment considering how young a pitcher Fernandez was (second youngest in MLB in 2013 to Nationals Outfielder Bryce Harper).
But regardless of the insane stats that Fernandez posted, like being in the top-10 in WAR (4.2 in 2013 for Fernandez) for players under 21 since 1900, Fernandez will be known for the relationships he made with many people.
One of these relationships that will greatly be affected by Fernandez’ passing is that with Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Diaz and Fernandez grew up on the same street in Cuba and grew up best friends who played ball together and spent time together outside of the diamond. In fact if it weren’t for Diaz and his family, it is a possibility that Fernandez would have never found the game of baseball, as Fernandez credits Diaz’s father, Roberto, and Diaz’s uncle, Nelson, for his introduction to baseball. Diaz and Fernandez’s friendship did not cease to exist at any point, even when Fernandez decided to immigrate to the United States four years before Diaz took on the same task. Diaz took some time off from playing to attend Fernandez’s service to pay his respects and mourn, but when Diaz returned to the Cardinals, his respect-paying wasn’t over, as Diaz blasted a grand slam against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night and then pointing up into the sky, in honor of his friend. The bond between the two will never cease to exist.
The most impressive thing about Fernandez, however, might be his love for his adopted country-the United States of America. Most Cuban ballplayers simply flee Cuba because it is a bad situation and they know that America is regarded as the land of opportunity and freedom, but seldom make the attempt to truly understand and love the American culture and history. Fernandez was sworn in with 140 other people as a United States citizen in April of 2015, something that was a priority of Fernandez’s ever since coming to the United States, and was actually the keynote speaker for the event. This shows Fernandez’s willingness to express his patriotism and not be afraid to share his story of how he got here. In this sense, Fernandez truly resembled the American dream.
He was able to come to America, fleeing a country in deep corruption and trouble, almost dying in the process of coming here, and then is able to become one of the most well-known and respected pitchers in the game of baseball (not to mention the amount of money he was making). I believe that Jose didn’t really care about the money though, even though he was on the brink of a major deal with the Marlins organization (somewhere in the ballpark of $200 million); I believe that Fernandez truly loved the game, loved the country and loved the people of this country. He showed life wherever he went and no matter which obstacles tried to deter him from success. These obstacles could be the massive 14-foot waves attempting to impede Fernandez from reaching the boat that would lead him to the promise land, or even the tommy john surgery that caused Fernandez to miss the better part of two consecutive seasons. But no matter how high the water, or how bad the arm injury, the man’s spirit never died, not then and not now; it is still living, and thriving, in Miami.
A lifespan of just 24 years does not do the world justice in the case of Fernandez. Fernandez had so much potential within the game of baseball and outside of it. Fernandez touched his community of Miami, his team, and the entire baseball world; but now Fernandez’s story will reach the entire world. Fernandez announced last week that he and his wife had a child on the way, this child will never get to experience the love of her father, which is a cruelty in itself.
Fernandez had everything going in the right direction for him, and just made one bad decision. It is never good for a young person to die, but especially not one as lively, as talented, and as caring as Fernandez.
The Marlins wore number 16 on the back of each jersey, accompanied with the last name “Fernandez”, in honor of the Cuban right-hander on Tuesday night, and teams around the league have honored Fernandez with moments of silence. The Marlins have additionally retired the number 16, the only retired number in franchise history outside of Jackie Robinson’s number, 42. No better way to pay homage to Jose Fernandez than to place him alongside the great Jackie Robinson. Jose, you may be gone from us, but, trust me, you aren’t forgotten.
(Featured Image: Arturo Pardavila III, Flickr)