Jose Fernandez: A Heart Even Bigger Than the Diamond

A Heart Even Bigger Than The Diamond

By Christopher Saunders


Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

Early Sunday morning on September 25th,  Fernandez and two friends passed away in a boating accident near Miami Beach.

When Jose Fernandez, age 24, pitched anything was possible. He was young, vibrant, dominate on the mound, and more importantly he was as passionate off the mound as we was on it.

He was a Rookie of the Year award winner (2013), surely a future Cy Young Award winner/Potential Hall of Famer when you look at the stats (Ranked No.1 among all major league pitchers with 6.2 War) and managed to rack up 589 Strikeouts over 1,888 batters in his career. If you look at the careers of Hall of Famers Randy Johnson (28.5) and Pedro Martinez (27.7) Fernandez had an outstanding (31.2) clip.

Fernandez made us care. So Sunday morning felt like the horror of watching the parade route end in a wreck and a funeral. So sudden. So fast. Too fast. Questions everyone around not just Miami, but around the world asked. Why? Why Fernandez? Why God? Why take him away from us?

These kind of emotional connections in sports are so rare. Fernandez’s Cuban exile story was our story. So we mourned as a family.

An uncommon joy has been extinguished. Fernandez had found freedom on one boat, and his life had ended on another. There will be uncomfortable questions about that in the coming days, and an investigation. This feels so cruel, so wrong, and so unfair.

In the history of South Florida sports, only Dontrelle Willis has matched Jose Fernandez’s contagious enthusiasm and charisma. He loved what he did, loved it so hard and so big, loved it so much that he forced you to love it, too.

Fernandez played the way the best Latin music feels. He acted like a little boy in a sports world soaked with adult problems and cynicism. You expected him to throw his glove into the sky at the end of successful innings. “You know what watching him work felt like to South Florida’s Cubans?” Freedom!

Fernandez tried to defect from Cuba four times, once saving his drowning mother during an attempted escape, the desperation on that rotting island such that he kept literally throwing his life to the wind to escape Cuba. He was jailed after being caught once. He said the first few months of freedom in the U.S. were harder on him than his incarceration in Cuba.

When he first arrived in the States, Jose didn’t understand how the faucet sensors worked in America’s airport bathrooms. He knew so little English that he didn’t even know where to put his name on a high school test. He so missed the grandmother who raised him — a grandmother who would later go to the roof of her apartment in Cuba to hear him pitch in the All-Star game on her tinny radio — that he would wander off into the woods to cry for hours at a time. But his golden arm reached across Caribbean Sea and got his grandmother here in an emotional reunion two years ago.

Jose Fernandez was just beginning to share and live the best parts of his American dream. His first baby was on the way. He worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to the top sport he loved, and yet he barely had time to enjoy it.

So I say thank you, José. Thanks for sharing your joyful smile, for telling your Cuban story and making us care about you in a way that can be hard to see through our tears. Your heart was bigger than the diamond. You’ll never be forgotten.

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