If you even just skim through sports news, you probably heard about the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez on Sunday. He was a 24 year old pitching prodigy for the Miami Marlins whose infectious energy on and off the diamond endeared him to players and fans all over the league.
Some of the sadness stemmed from losing what could’ve been one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. His career stats to this point showed he was off to a better career start than any pitcher ever. He was that good.
But most of the sadness came from losing a really good person. Watching through the TV you could just tell that he was fun. You could tell that he was eternally grateful to be able to escape Cuba and make a living playing the game that he loved the most.
Fernandez was born and raised in Cuba and successfully defected on his third attempt in 2007. He was drafted by Miami in 2011 out of high school and by 2013, he was in the majors and taking home the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
I was at work when I first heard the news break. My boss, who’s a huge baseball fan, and I were in stunned. It was so weird to me because I just watched possibly one of his best games a few days earlier on TV. When I was able to finally see all the reactions, I was amazed by how many were touched more by his personality and how he approached the game than for his golden right arm.
My favorite anecdote was this tweet by ESPN reporter Allison Williams.
Also interesting to see was the reaction of the Cuban-American community, which makes up a large portion of Miami’s hispanic demographic. Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald was born to Cuban immigrants and talked in this piece about how he reacted and why all the Cuban-Americans felt such a strong connection to Fernandez. It was touching to see how much they knew him without actually knowing him.
Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz asked that a retirement ceremony being held for him be canceled out of respect and the Marlins canceled their game that day vs. Atlanta. One of the lasting images is Fernandez’s closest friends on the Marlins, Dee Gordon, squatting behind the pitchers mound — adorned with a single Miami hat and the number 16 — at Marlins Park sobbing.
The next day, there were one of those moments that tug at the emotions a bit and is way too good for a Hollywood script. To start, the very first at-bat is none other than Dee Gordon. As a tribute, Gordon would wear Fernandez’s batting helmet and walk into the right handed batter’s box (Gordon is a lefty) and imitate Jose’s batting stance for the first pitch.
After that, he would switch to his natural side and the next pitch, he crushes his first home run of the season. You couldn’t help but be a Miami fan for the night. The moment was just too perfect.
Baseball writers are already saying there should be an award named for him to honor just pure passion for the game. I’m on board but amazed that a 24 year old built the a reputation large enough for that.
To me being a sports fan is about love for the game before love for your teams. I never saw Fernandez in person but I’d seen a lot of him on TV when they would play the Mets. I loved watching him pitch. Never saw a guy get a slider to move the way his did. It was as good as watching Stephen Curry play basketball.
This probably reads more like a news article/obituary more than anything, but it’s a way to show what a great person he was and how he reminded me of how someone is supposed to approach life. It’s a shame that things like this happen to really wonderful people.
P.S. Excuse the lame title