The world of sports was caught off guard Sunday morning when 24 year old Miami Marlins all star pitcher, Jose Fernandez was found dead along with two other men in Miami Beach from a boating accident. Early reports indicate that the boat hit a series of rocks in the beach at full speed, flipping the boat upside down and killing the three men on-board. Fernandez entered this season a full year off the Tommy John surgery that ended his 2014 sophomore season. In his final season, Fernandez won 16 games he started, lead all pitchers with a 12.5 strikeout average per nine innings and 253 strikeouts total set a new Marlins record. He was elected to his second All-Star game and is one of the leading candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, given to the top pitch in each league. In his four short seasons, Fernandez became the face of the Miami Marlins alongside outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, had one of the greatest rookie seasons by a pitcher back in 2012, and helped lead a struggling Marlin franchise back to respectability. However, Jose Fernandez’s story doesn’t begin on a mound, instead in a boat and a jail cell.
Fernandez was born in Saint Clara, Cuba in 1992. Through the influence of the uncle of St. Louis Cardinals All-Star shortstop Aledmys Diaz and Fernandez’s childhood friend, Jose began to gain an interest in baseball. By the time he was 13, his step-father had defected from Cuba to the US, leading to Fernandez and his family to try and fail on three separate occasions between 2005-06. Each fail led to the imprisonment of himself, his mother, and sister. In 2007, attempting for a fourth time to defect, Fernandez’s mother fell into the turbulent ocean. Fernandez proceeded to jump into the ocean and pull his mother back onto the boat. The three would reach to shores for Florida on this attempt.
As the 14th pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Fernandez would be playing for his new home’s baseball team, the Miami Marlins. By the end of the 2012 Minor League Season, Jose had already shown to be the Marlins best prospect, with a 14-1 record, 1.75 ERA, and be named the fifth top prospect in all of baseball.
Injuries to starting pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez forced the Marlins to put the 20 year old to the Opening Day roster. In his first start, he became the 7th pitcher to strike out at least eight batters before turning 21 in his debut. The 2013 campaign saw Fernandez been elected to his first All-Star game, ranked first in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings and hits allowed per nine innings, and voted third in the NL Cy Young Award.
His sophomore campaign saw him get off another fast start, becoming the youngest pitcher since Dwight Gooden to start on Opening Day and following it up by allowing no walks and striking out nine batters on Opening Day. By mid however, his season would come to an end after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, forcing him to have season ending surgery that required a year to recover. He returned to the mound on July 2 of 2015, where he proceeded to strikeout six batters and hit a homerun in his first game back. By the end of the 2015 season, it was clear Fernandez’s injury had not hindered his skills and his 2016 All-Star season was even more evidence of that.
It’s numbing to think that a person so young and who has already lived more of life than people twice or three times his age could be gone like that. Less than a week ago on Instagram, Fernandez and his longtime girlfriend, Carla Mendoza, announced she was pregnant with their first child. Already in his career, he had games where that drew comparison to all time greats such as Bob Feller and Bob Gibson.
Part of the Miami community, Fernandez was loved because of his journey to make it to America. And playing in front of his home fans, he won 17 straight games to begin his career at home and ended his career with a 24-1 home record. MLB locker rooms paid tribute to Fernandez’s life and career, though the loudest tributes came from Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes taping his jersey in the dugout. Like Fernandez, both were Cuban defectors and stars in the sport. It’ll be tough moving onto the future now, knowing that one of the game’s brightest stars and personalities is no longer with us. Whether or not Fernandez would have been Cooperstown bound doesn’t matter, because Fernandez’s presence in the sport has given the game a spark over the past four seasons.