By Mike Reistetter and Joe SanFilippo
A native of Newburgh, N.Y. dawns a Miami Marlins hat while shopping in “Price Chopper.” A single tear streams down his face as he happily sings the hook from R & B artist John Legend’s “Everybody Knows.”
What he, and everybody else knows, is the most unexpected tragedy has shocked an entire baseball community resistant to the idea of adding one of their beloved household names to the loss column.
His favorite player, and your favorite player’s favorite player, José Fernández, was killed in a boating accident on Sunday.
Fernández and two others were discovered by the U.S. Coast Guard at around 3am, and appeared to have crashed head-on into rocks upon the shore.
With such a bright future in store for the charismatic, 24-year-old flame-throwing ace of the Miami Marlins, he had already established a reputation as one of most dominating pitchers in Major League Baseball. But as talented as he was, perhaps even more noteworthy was his uniquely exuberant personality.
Granted, his antics on the mound may have annoyed his opponents sometimes. Yet across the league, the same players he made look foolish time and time again with his devastating slider united to grieve the fallen pitcher.
Ever since Fernández, a two-time all star, burst upon the scene in his NL Rookie of the Year-winning campaign in 2013, Marlins fans always looked forward to watching him pitch, affectionately dubbing the games he started on the mound as “José Day.”
The epitome of a one-man act, Fernandez served as the incredibly youthful “face of the franchise.” His natural charisma and effortless showmanship virtually christened him the de-facto “Cuban Ambassador” for the sports world in Miami, FL.
Overnight, Fernández became the king of a city populated by many fellow Cubans who, like Fernandez, defected from their homeland.
During MLB Network’s breaking news coverage on the morning the media learned of his passing, former MLB player and current analyst Harold Reynolds discussed the various conversations he had with Fernández over the years.
“We’re talking about a guy who from the get-go was a PHENOM, and as such, was treated like baseball royalty,” said Reynolds. “As a teenager he was a regular guest at (Fidel) Castro’s palace. He was, and always was, the big deal. Not just in Miami, but back home too.”
Reynolds went on to describe the plight Fernández and his family experienced during three unsuccessful attempts to escape Cuba. The family was written off by Castro for their defiance, and labeled social outcasts.
While evading arrest during their successful defection in 2007, it was not done so without drastic complications, as Fernández saved his mother, an inexperienced swimmer, from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean.
“José Fernández was a great young man. Vibrant, consistently upbeat, kind, and oh so talented,” MLB Network insider and CBS Sports reporter John Heyman tweeted.
He was arguably the most exciting player to watch. He went out there and you knew he would do everything he could to win, all with a smile constantly on his face.
As fans, this is all we could ever ask for out of a player. Baseball is a game. Fernández was just a kid out there, always having a blast.
One bright light to take away from the darkest of tunnels is how Fernández lived his life—to the fullest, ensuring he had fun during his young baseball life. Others should look to this athlete, whose life ended far too soon, and stride to have as much fun as he did twice a week on “José Day.”
“We should celebrate his joy, the joy that he lived his life with and played baseball with,” said former MLB player and current Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “And it should be a thing we should carry with us and learn from him.”
Rest in peace, José Fernández. We proudly acknowledge the impact you made on this game, in the little time you had to play it down here, will never be forgotten.
Sadly, we are incapable of predicting exactly where you will pitch your next start. Yes, everybody knows. But nobody really knows.