One of us: tragically gone
September 25, 2016
At approximately 3 a.m. today, Cuban-born Marlins pitching ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach. Fernandez, 24, immigrated to the United States when he was 15 after being caught two times previously and was even jailed. On his journey to the U.S., he left behind his grandmother Olga, who taught him how to play baseball, and he saved his mother from drowning after she fell overboard and nearly died. Little did he know at that moment that he would become one of the most beloved figures in Miami, a place where Cuban success stories are cherished by the large immigrant community.
Upon arriving to the U.S., Fernandez enrolled at Alonso High School in Tampa and quickly learned the English language. He also dominated opposing batters, going 13-1 in his senior year, along with throwing two no-hitters. The young ace was drafted by the Marlins in the second round of the 2011 draft and had no trouble adjusting to professional baseball.
In his rookie year, 2013, Fernandez shocked the baseball world and went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA to make the All-Star game and become the fourth Cuban-born Rookie of the Year, at age 20, proving to be the lone bright spot on a team that lost 100 games. His electric personality instantly won over the hearts of Marlins and baseball fans, and he seemed to never disappoint. This notion was exemplified in his last start of his rookie season, when Fernandez hit a homerun in his last at-bat, leaving Marlins fans with one last piece of magic before the season was over. Later that year, he was reunited with his grandmother, who was flew into Miami due to the efforts of owner Jeffrey Loria, and she was with Jose when he found out he received the award.
Jose’s love for his family was always an integral part of his life, tattooing the names of his mother and grandmother on his arm. The two were fixtures at his home starts, and their presence seemed to have an impact on him; Jose finished his career with the lowest home ERA in MLB history and a 29-2 record at Marlins Park.
Fernandez’s resilience was tested once again the following year, when he had to undergo Tommy John surgery (elbow ligament replacement.) Jose did not pitch for another 14 months, and expectations were low once he returned. This was an injury that could derail his career. Fernandez, though, picked up right where he left off and hit a homerun and even reached 99 mph on his fastball in the game.
This year, the Cuban superstar continued to make South Floridians proud. He went 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA and finished with 253 strikeouts, the most by a Marlins pitcher in a single season. In his last start this past Tuesday, Fernandez pitched what we would later go on to call the best performance of his life. He pitched eight innings, struck out 12 batters and gave up only three hits en route to a 1-0 win. Earlier that day, he took to Instagram to announce that his girlfriend Carla Mendoza was pregnant with their first child.
Jose Fernandez’s life will be remembered as one of tragedy, but also of courage and determination. In a sport that infamously disallows players from showing their personality, he was accepted. His inspirational journey is a refreshing example of the American Dream and the way he saved his family and gave them a better life is inspiring. He was heroic in every sense of the word.
His impact on his teammates, the Marlins organization and the City of Miami was really made known today. The Marlins cancelled their game against the Atlanta Braves today and stood in solidarity at a press conference this afternoon, with the front office, coaches and players crying and reminiscing together about their friend who always emitted joy and never took them or anything else for granted.
He represented freedom, despite being born in a country that oppressed it. Even though he is now gone at such a young age, his story will always be full of life.