Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins ace and one of the best young pitchers in Major League Baseball, died unexpectedly in a boating accident early Sunday morning.
Fernandez, who was just 24 years old, and two other men were found dead after their vessel flipped onto a rocky jetty in the Miami Harbor. Early reports indicate that the speed of the boat at the time of the crash was the primary cause of the fatalities and that neither drugs nor alcohol are believed to have been involved. The names of the other two men have not been released.
The death of Fernandez, one baseball’s budding young stars, naturally sent shock waves through the sports community. Moments of silence will be held in baseball and football stadiums across the country on Sunday, and the Marlins have cancelled their game against the Braves.
Jose Fernandez was must-see television. His youthful energy, big smile, and the way he absolutely dominated his opponents captured national audiences ever since he was taken 14th overall in the 2011 draft.
Fernandez first made headlines in 2013 when he skipped Double and Triple-A, something almost no baseball player does, and debuted as a 20-year-old. That year he pitched to a 2.19 ERA, finishing third in the Cy Young Award voting and winning the Rookie of the Year.
His road to the big leagues was nothing but easy. He was born in Santa Clara, Cuba and failed to defect three times, each resulting in prison time, before successfully fleeing the island with his mother and sister and settling in Tampa in 2007.
Fernandez long considered his grandmother, Olga, “the love of his life” as he said to MLB Network reporters who surprised the pitcher with a live, on camera heartwarming reunion after five years apart the day before he received his Rookie of the Year Award.
Fernandez went on to miss parts of the 2014 and 2015 season while undergoing Tommy John surgery, but the All-Star was back to his stellar self in 2016. For his career, Fernandez finished with a 38-17 record with a 2.58 ERA and 589 strikeouts in 471.1 innings.
Using the past tense to describe someone as vibrant and successful as Fernandez makes me physically sick to my stomach. Star athletes in the prime of their careers simply aren’t taken from us at such a young age. It is fortunate that such an upsetting occurrence is a rarity, yet it also makes the severity of this event all the more gut-wrenching. Perhaps worst of all, just this past week Fernandez posted a picture on Instagram of his girlfriend, announcing that they were expecting their first child.
The first player that comes to mind when a tragedy like this occurs is Roberto Clemente, the Pirates Hall of Fame Outfielder who died in a plane crash at the age of 37. More recently, the Cardinals lost their former top prospect Oscar Taveras in a car accident shortly after being eliminated from the playoffs in 2014.
The name “Jose Fernandez” should not be remembered as a tragedy. He was a man with a smile as electric as his 100 mph fastball and knee buckling curve. He was the face of a franchise and a symbol of hope for the Cuban people, both back home and in Miami. He was the pitcher who caused a bench clearing brawl after bat flipping a homerun in his rookie season. He pitched a perfect inning in the All-Star Game as a 20-year-old. He enjoyed every moment he had in a baseball uniform and that joy made watching the game more fun.
We’ll miss you Jose Fernandez.