Written by: Joe Ryan
Twitter: @wingspansports (shoot us a follow, we’ll follow back)
This is tough.
It has now been a full year since the passing of Jose Fernandez. It was tough to hear, it was tough to watch the news, it was just really tough and really emotional. When I woke up that morning and saw that, I was motionless. I couldn’t believe the news. I wanted, I prayed that it would be a hoax. But it wasn’t.
A year ago I wrote this story on Jose Fernandez and how much he ended up meaning to me. I hope you guys will take the time to read about not the baseball player, but the man.
Jose Fernandez was my hero, and the sad thing is I didn’t even know it until it was too late. He was my hero. Jose Fernandez was a pitcher for the Miami Marlins. He was a young, 24-year-old pitcher from Cuba. He was already one of the best pitchers in the game today and eventually if his career played out like it should have, he would’ve been considered one of the best pitchers in baseball history. Jose was that good.
Unfortunately, Jose Fernandez was tragically killed on the morning of September 25, 2016. He was only 24 years old. Jose was out fishing at 3:30 in the morning. he loved to fish and he wanted to go blow off some steam and stress. He just wanted to go fishing with his buddies. Jose Fernandez texted his Marlins teammates asking if they wanted to go fishing with him that morning, every person he asked declined. They didn’t want to go fishing that early and leave their families for the night. However, Jose loved fishing, especially at night, that’s when the best fish catch. His friend, Will Bernal, was texting his and Jose’s friend, Eddy Rivero and told him to not go out fishing that night and if they were to keep Jose cool. Rivero said, “Trust me it’s not my time yet.” Unfortunately, when Bernal woke up, he found out the news. The three guys on the boat crashed into a set of rocks at 3:30 in the morning. All three were killed on impact. Three young men, with such bright, bright futures are no longer with us and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Yes, it was heartbreaking news to wake up too. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I was hoping it would be a hoax. He was supposed to pitch against the Mets the next day. I already considered it a loss for the Mets because I knew how good he was, especially against the Mets. I knew for a fact the Mets were going to lose that game. Now his spot was a void, and I kept reading and reading about his death, speechless, motionless. I didn’t want to believe it. At first, I thought baseball lost a true legend, however, after I read more and more about this young man, I realized not only did baseball lose a legend, but this entire world lost a legend. He was a superstar on and off the baseball field, and not many people can say that.
Jose Fernandez was my hero, and I didn’t even know it until after his death. Jose Fernandez was just a young kid from Cuba. Searching, hoping, praying for a way out: a way to the greatest country in the world for freedom. He wanted a new life, not only for him but for his family. Fernandez tried to escape Cuba three times. All three times he failed. At 14 years old after trying to escape, the Cuban authorities started shooting at him and he survived it. After he was caught, they sent him to a Cuban jail for a year. That didn’t stop Jose from stopping his dream. As soon as Jose was released from jail, he took his mother and they set off on a boat to America. This time they were going to make it, and they left Cuba successfully. The only thing left was getting all the people on board that small ship to Florida. One night as Jose was talking to the captain of the boat, he heard a splash in the water. And then he heard screaming. The waves were enormous, as Jose said they were “stupid big”. It was the middle of the night; all Jose saw was a body in the middle of the ocean. A huge wave crashed on to the boat and swept someone into the water with them. Without hesitating, Jose jumped into the water to save this person. He knew he was a good swimmer. There was a small spotlight shined on the person so Jose knew where to go. Jose could make out the person. It was his mother. The wave took Jose’s mother with it and she needed help, she could barely swim. Jose eventually got to her and told her, “Grab my back, but don’t push me down. Let’s go slow, and we’ll make it.” His mother grabbed onto him, grabbed on his left arm and they started swimming. Jose was carrying a human life on his left arm, swimming with his right arm, his pitching arm. He didn’t care. He needed to save his mom’s life. Even though he didn’t know it was his mom at the time, he jumped into the water, risked his own life, to save a random person, not knowing who it was at first. It just speaks volumes of the type of person Jose Fernandez was. Risking his own life to save others. He had such a big heart and cared about so many people. More people in the world need to be like Jose Fernandez.
Fernandez and his mother made it to America and made a life for themselves. Fernandez was dominating the high school game and was drafted by the Miami Marlins in 2011 with the 14th overall pick in the first round. This was a huge accomplishment for Jose and his family. They finally made it.
Jose loved playing the game of baseball. It was Jose’s first year in the major leagues, the last game of the season. Fernandez got up to bat and absolutely crushed a home run to left field. As soon as Jose hit it he just starred at it. The Atlanta Braves took offense to that. They didn’t appreciate him starring at it for so long. But he didn’t care, here’s a 21-year-old kid watching his first major league home run. He didn’t mean to be disrespectful, he was just in awe. After Jose crossed home plate a bench-clearing brawl took place, which can be found here.
If you look closely people are throwing punches, cursing and hitting one another and then look at Jose Fernandez. His teammate pulled him away from the pile and Jose was STILL smiling. He kept looking over the left field fence, still in awe at what he did. He couldn’t believe it. Jose had the look of an eight year old kid on Christmas morning and seeing all the presents under the tree. That’s how Jose played every game. Like it was Christmas morning, because he loved this game and he knew it saved his life. He was just blessed to play the game. He didn’t even treat it like a job like most players do, he treated it like a little league would play: with emotion, passion and love. Jose didn’t understand why people were angry at him when he hit the home run. When he passed third base, the Braves third baseman at the time, Chris Johnson had a few words for him and Johnson started the brawl. He hated Fernandez at the moment. Until in 2016, Fernandez and Johnson became teammates and friends. And every time Fernandez and Johnson talked in the Miami dugout, Fernandez would always say, “Who would’ve thought?” Fernandez meant who would’ve thought the two would be great friends and teammates after that brawl. After the death to Fernandez, Johnson was crushed. He lost his friend. Chris Johnson explained why he got so upset after the Fernandez home run, “It was because I was getting out every single time, and there was this guy standing out there — Jose. I’m grinding. I’m trying to get a hit as hard as I can, and he’s out there having a good time, smiling, laughing, doing whatever he wants on the baseball field. He hit homers against us. He’s striking us out. He’s getting wins. That’s the reason why everybody gets so upset, is because he’s so good.” Players take this game like a job, pressing and pushing to play well to get their next contract, Jose played for the love of the game. Fernandez helped me realize that.
I think the best Jose Fernandez moment is when he reunited with his grandmother, who never made it to America. Whenever Jose would pitch in the majors she would climb on top of her roof and listen to her portable radio of the game because that’s where she got the best signal. And then the Miami Marlins front office went to Cuba and brought Fernandez grandmother to America. I can’t put into words the moment they shared. It’s too good for words. If you have 5 minutes, please watch this video. Also, grab a box of tissues. It’s too hard for me to write about it, but it’s also too special to put into words. I don’t even have words for it. You’ll just have to watch. Sorry for that. I wish I had the words.
My last few favorite memories of Jose are really special. The first one was when there was a young fan in the stands crying before the game. We don’t know why he was crying, but it didn’t matter to Jose. The kid wanted Jose’s autograph, but what Jose did was even more special. Jose signed the kid’s book but Jose asked the kid for his autograph. The family was shocked; the kid was shocked. The kid signed the paper and Jose asked very politely if he could rip the paper out so he could keep the autograph. The parent obviously said yes. They were absolutely in shock. The National League Rookie of the year, a two-time all-star is asking a kid for his autograph. You don’t see that every day, if at all. Jose was that special. That video can be found here.
My last favorite memory of Jose Fernandez was after he pitched a game. Jose beat the Dodgers on a warm, summer night in Los Angeles. He pitched a beautiful game, and the Marlins beat the Dodgers. It was fireworks night at the Dodgers stadium, so the Dodgers shoot off fireworks after the game. Most players go into the clubhouse and shower and get changed and go back to the hotel as quickly as possible. Not Jose. Jose didn’t want to go into the clubhouse, he didn’t want to talk to the media yet. He wanted to enjoy the moment. He took a chair from the dugout, went outside on the field and just sat there, watching the fireworks like a little kid. It looked like he genuinely enjoyed that moment, his life and it looked like he was taking it all in. After I saw that picture, I will be the first one to admit, I showed my mom late at night and I broke down and cried. I was crushed, heartbroken and devastated. I’m lucky and blessed to have my mom there for me. I just thought to myself, this was the greatest guy I have ever read about and he’s gone? Why is he gone? Why him? He was supposed to be a father to a baby girl in seven months. There is a video of him finding out he was having a baby girl and its heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking.
The Marlins canceled their game the day of his death. They played the next game against the Mets. The pregame was heartbreaking. There is an old saying that, “There is no crying in baseball.” Well, if you were in that stadium that day and weren’t crying, then you have no heat because it was crazy emotional. Every player on that field was crying their eyes out. The game started with every Marlin player wearing #16 on the back of their jersey with Fernandez’s name on it, and the first batter of the game was Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez’s best friend. Dee Gordon a left-handed hitter, batted righty for the first pitch to honor his friend. He wore Jose’s helmet and then after the first pitch, he put his helmet on and batted lefty. Two pitches later, Dee Gordon took a pitch and hit it in the second deck for a home run. Like I said in my last article, “Ordinary People can do Extraordinary Things.” Dee Gordon, one of the skinniest baseball players of all time hit a ball into the second deck. Gordon said, “I ain’t never hit a ball that far, even in BP, I told the boys, ‘If you all don’t believe in God, you better start.’ For that to happen today, we had some help.” The home run can be found here.. The Marlins won that game 7-3. I’m a die-hard Mets fan, and they needed to win as many games as possible to make the playoffs with the season winding down, but that game, I was praying the Mets lose. The Marlins players needed that win. The city needed that win. Everyone who loved Jose Fernandez needed the Marlins to win. No one will wear #16 again in a Marlins’ uniform. That was the last time. The Marlins will retire the number next year, making it the first number in Marlins history to be retired.
Jose Fernandez was also best friends with the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop, Aledmys Díaz. They grew up on the same street in Cuba and played on the same little league team. Aledmys Díaz uncle convinced Jose to play baseball. After Aledmys Díaz took the day off to go visit Fernandez family in Miami, he came back to play for the Cardinals who are in the middle of a playoff run. In his first game back, Diaz hit his first grand slam home run to give the Cardinals the lead. Jose is absolutely still working his magic up in heaven.
I believe Major League Baseball should come up with the Jose Fernandez award for the player showing the most passion and love for the game throughout the season. It would be an amazing way to honor not only one of the best pitchers this game has seen in a long time but also for the person he was and the love he had for this game. This stupid, boring, LOVING game, changed Jose Fernandez life, and he changed mine. I hope he changes yours.
The best Jose Fernandez quote I read was: “I compete. I compete like crazy. That is just the person I am. I like to have fun. I want for people to say he was always having fun. I want people to say he was a hard worker, that he’s not going to give up. That’s all I can ask. Baseball is my life. It’s just fun, man, to come out on the field and to do what your dream is. Sometimes we forget that.” Jose has nothing to worry about, everyone will remember him just the way he wanted it. I know this article doesn’t do Jose justice. He has done so much in his life and so much we probably don’t even know. I just had to write about the amazing person Jose Fernandez was.
Jose played for the love of the game. Fernandez helped me realize that. You see, after my senior year of high school, I thought I played my last inning of baseball, a game I played since I was four years old. The game I fell in love with. The game that even through the worst was always there. I always knew I could count on baseball because I loved it so much and I cared about it so much. I still do, but after my senior year of high school, I thought I didn’t love it anymore. I thought it was silly that I still loved a game so much. After I was cut from my college baseball team, I thought it was a good run. There was a lot of ups and downs throughout my career, but the ups were always better than the downs. And I thought that I would finally just give up on playing and focus on my life, my school work and my future career. I thought it was time to grow up.
Jose Fernandez changed that for me. After his death, it opened my eyes. I saw this kid love a game so much, get so excited over a home run, run off the field after striking out a batter like he won the World Series in the middle of May. He loved this game and now he can’t play it anymore. Fortunately, I still can play this game and it’s okay to love this game the way that I used to love it. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get back on the field and play the game the way I played the game when I was 14, with love, and not caring about making a team or the pressure the game brings. Whenever I step on the field again to play, I don’t know when it’ll be, but I promise, for Jose Fernandez it will happen again. And when I play again and I throw on my jersey and my worn out cleats, I’m going to remember Jose and I’m going to play for my hero. Because even though I never met him, Jose Fernandez was my hero. Thank you, Jose, I will never forget you and the love you had for everyone and the game of Baseball. I’ll miss your greatness. Thank you for changing my life, I love you for that. Rest In Peace Jose. Throw some fastballs up in Heaven.
Update to present day: I no longer play baseball. It is not because I quit or because I refuse to try, no. I was blessed to be asked to be apart of my College Tennis team, and yes, it is not the sport I grew up loving, it is a sport that I love because I go out there everyday with a huge smile on my face, just like Jose, and I play college Tennis with such passion, just like Jose Fernandez. I dedicate every time I step onto the court to Jose Fernandez, because I know that would make him smile.
Jose Fernandez made a mistake. A big one. But that should not have costed him and his friends life. I understand if Jose lives he would’ve faced manslaughter charges and I’m not defending that at all. I get that it was a mistake. But it was a mistake. If everyone dies from a mistake than no one would be alive. Understandably, this was a bad mistake as Jose was found to be guilty of driving the boat while intoxicated. Yes, everyone on that boat was severely intoxicated. I still don’t understand how Jose was the only one convicted of driving the boat that night. If you look at the boat, it was torn to pieces and it’s a damn shame. That’s not what I’m here to defend. I’m here to defend the person before the mistake. The true, honorable, generous, loving person that was Jose Fernandez.
Jose Fernandez is what a true role model looks like. He was genuine, he was happy, he was energetic and he cared for so many people. He made such a difference in this world and it’s just a damn shame that he is gone. He cared for his family, he cared for his teammates, he cared for both of his countries, he cared for his fans, and most importantly if he was still here, he would’ve extremely cared for his daughter, who was born 6 months after his death.
In terms of baseball, the Marlins miss their ace. The Marlins are not a team without him. He was the leader, the jokster and most importantly, one of the best pitchers in baseball at the time of his death. How were the Marlins supposed to replace that and compete this year? they absolutely couldn’t. I applaud them for their efforts this year and they did everything they could. It just wasn’t enough without their best player.
It is a damn shame that Jose Fernandez is gone. I explained already how much he meant to me above. It is a damn shame that he is gone not only from baseball, but from this world. More people need to be like Jose before his death. He was a true and genuine person.
There are no words.
It is just a damn shame.
Let’s not forget about Rivero and Emilio who were also killed that morning. They two of them had bright bright futures and it is a damn shame that they are gone.
Hope your killing it up there in Heaven Jose. Keep throwing those fastballs and look after your daughter from above.
I sincerely miss you Jose. I just wish I had a chance to meet you.