By Brandon Liguori
When the Florida Marlins drafted Jose Fernandez in the first round of the MLB draft back in 2011, the organization believed that he was the ultimate answer for a pitching staff with a lot of holes.
His much anticipated debut came two years later, on April seventh, 2013, against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Fernandez dazzled as he threw five innings and allowed only one run on three hits. He had eight strikeouts. Jose went on to win the NL Rookie Of The Year Award that season.
It looked as if Fernandez was on track to be a superstar and an eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer in the upcoming future. However, on September 25, 2016, things changed.
Throughout it’s history, the nation of Cuba has endured under the harsh regime of dictator Fidel Castro. Castro’s fifty-year communist reign saw famine, destitution, and even mass murder.
Cuba, despite having an international reputation as a state of oppression and suffering, does produce beautiful things as well. Some of the kindest and most brilliant people on earth call the island nation home. One of those people was Jose Fenandez.
Jose D. Fernandez was born on July 31, 1992, in Santa Clara, Cuba, to single mother Martiza Fernandez. Growing up a few doors down from fellow major leaguer, Aledmys Diaz, Jose was indoctrinated by the game of baseball from an early age. Following in the footsteps of many other Cubans, the cherished game took root in his soul. After a childhood devoted to baseball, Jose was seeking a professional career.
However, the state of his homeland made it extremely difficult for Fernandez to leave Cuba and come to America. At the clutches of Castro transit from Cuba’s borders to American soil was illegal and dangerous to attempt. This didn’t stop Jose.
He made three unsuccessful attempts at defecting, only succeeding upon his fourth opportunity.
In my own eyes, Jose’s struggle for the pursuit of a dream embodies the concept of freedom.
Miami Marlins president David Samson backed this sentiment when he said: “He represented freedom in a way that most people here could not quite comprehend” regarding Fernandez’s quest for sanctity.
Jose’s journey culminated in April 2015, during his junior season in the MLB, when he obtained his U.S. citizenship. Fernandez said “It was a dream come true. It was really important to me and my family. I appreciate this amazing country and I respect it,” Fernandez said that day. “I think it’s an honor to be an American citizen” in reference to this most proud day in his life.
Molded in the crucible of immense advesrity, Jose became an ace for a ballclub that had experienced losing seasons, managerial changes, poor attendance rates, and a playoff drought stemming back to 2003. Fernandez, at the age of 24, became the king of Marlins Park. Every five days, when he reached the pitching mound before the top of the first inning, the crowd rejoiced. The city of Miami adopted him as their own.
Fernandez’s last game came on September 20, 2016. He pitched eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over the NL East-leading Washington Nationals. In the game he struck out twelve batters and allowed just three hits.
I remember my friend and I had attended the game, sitting right behind home plate. While video-taping each inning that Jose took the mound, my friend leaned over to me and said “tonight has to be one of the best games he has ever pitched”. Jose finished the 2016 campaign with a Marlins’ season record two-hundred-and-fifty-three strikeouts.
On September 25, 2016 people all across South Florida were gearing up for the Miami Dolphins home opener against the Cleveland Browns at Hard Rock Stadium throughout the early morning. Unfortunately, that day was to be one of tragedy.
During the previous night, Fernandez was one of three people killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach, Florida. The U.S. Coast Guard found the boat, ‘Kaught Looking’, at around three in the morning, overturned on a jetty near Government Cut and South Pointe Park. The Marlins organization was absolutely devastated, canceling their game against the Atlanta Braves that day.
Teams around the major leagues honored Fernandez after his death, paying tribute with a league-wide moment of silence and a display of his jersey in dugouts across the nation
Hearing about the passing of Jose Fernandez made my mind go bleak. I have been watching baseball since I was a little kid, but for his talent, love, passion of the game, and desire to compete on a nightly basis, Jose stood out to me. Fernandez did this all while having fun with his teammates and even his opponents.
It broke my heart. It was one of those thing you never would have believed or thought. This couldn’t have actually happened to this guy.
However, Seeing media members of ESPN, Fox Sports, and more break down to the point of tears really brought it to reality. Jose Fernandez was actually gone.
The instance made me stop and think about life in general for a couple of minutes. Jose taught me that if you dream big throughout your life and work hard, you can turn that dream into reality.
Every day, it hurts more and more, especially now with the start of Spring Training.
I am truly blessed that I got the chance to meet Jose in person during the summer of 2013. Having a one-on-one conversation with him is something I will NEVER forget. He told me to keep reaching for my dream of a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism, and that the sky is the limit for me.
I hope you are throwing heat in heaven, Jose. You will never be forgotten!
Not only did Jose Fernandez touch me and the entire Miami community, but he left a real footprint on baseball, forever. I know that wherever he is, he is at least proud of that.