If you are a baseball fan, you probably woke up to the news that Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez passed away in a boating accident early Sunday morning. I know I rolled out of bed that morning, checking my phone like most teenagers do. I clicked on the Buzzfeed app, expecting a funny or politically related article that morning, and the headline at the top blew me away: “Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez Dead at 24.” At first, I did not think this was true. I went to social media and checked MLB.com to make sure it was not. I could not have been more wrong.
Fernandez, who was scheduled to pitch on Monday in the opener of a four-game series against the New York Mets, died at 3:30 a. m. Sunday morning in a boating accident. The two other passengers, Emilio Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero, died as well. The thirty-two foot console boat was traveling at full speed when it crashed onto the jetties, causing the boat to capsize. Neither the passengers nor Fernandez were wearing life vests.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly has described Fernandez as most would: “I see such a little boy in him with the way he played. There was just joy with him when he played. When he pitched, I think that’s what the guys would say too, as mad as he would make you with some of the stuff he’d do, you’d see that little kid you see when you watch kids play Little League.” Television broadcasters during the Monday night described Fernandez as a player who “embraced everyone who stepped into their dugout”, and who “spent at least seven to ten minutes with each player every game, no matter who you were.”
The loss of Jose Fernandez is without a doubt heart-wrenching and one that is felt all over Major League Baseball and its fans. As the Marlins-Braves game that was scheduled for Sunday was canceled, teams all across the league held a moment of silence for the young ace. A tearful Monday evening game was highlighted with a home run from Dee Gordon, the Marlins second baseman, a moment of silence around the mound, and a tearful pre-game speech from centerfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Gordon, who was visibly shaken over Fernandez’s death, paid tribute by batting right-handed wearing Fernandez’s batting helmet for the first pitch. After taking the first pitch, he switched out his helmet, and on the next pitch, hammered a moon shot to right field. The second baseman had broken down in tears by the time he had reached home plate. “If y’all don’t believe in God, you might as well start [believing],” Gordon said after the game. “I’ve never hit a ball that far, even in batting practice.”
Before the game, many of the players were stunned to see the Mets extending their hands and hugs. “This team is first-class,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “I’m very proud of our guys, the way they went about things.” Like I said earlier, the loss was felt all around the baseball community, not just in the Marlins organization. Like many of Collins’s players, he had a whirlwind of emotions. He wanted to win, he wanted to cry, he wanted to curl up into a ball and wake up from the nightmare everyone was living. He describes the game as “bigger than baseball.”
Fernandez was born in Cuba, one of millions to defect from the country. It took him four tries, the first three resulting in a trip to prison each time. His family finally made it to the States on a ‘daunting journey’, and in a few years he would become a sensational pitcher. In 2013, he went from Class A on opening day to All-Star and Rookie of the Year. At the end of the season, his grandmother surprised him, something Fernandez had been longing for since the day he left Cuba for the last time. The next year, he tore his UCL, another daunting journey to take, but he bounced back like a true athlete. He soon became one of the greatest pitchers the league had ever seen, posting a record of 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA, and a strikeout rate of 34.3%
Jose Fernandez will be remembered as the young prodigy who was the light of the Marlins’ successes. He had the charisma, he had the talent, and he had the biggest heart any player or manager had ever seen. His loss leaves a blow in our hearts that will not be easily fixed, and does not begin to measure up to the emotions Fernandez’s family, including his mother, grandmother, girlfriend, and unborn daughter may be feeling. Jose Fernandez was a product of their spirit, and my heart goes out to those who are closest to him. How can a symbol of hope be gone so soon?