A baseball star that twinkled out too soon
By Chandler Walter, Assistant Editor
José Fernandez was a Cuban American Major League Baseball player who pitched for the Miami Marlins. Fernandez had only started his baseball career, having been drafted by the Marlins in 2011 in the first round. He went on to make his MLB debut in the 2013 season on April 7.
From the start, it was obvious that the young pitcher had talent. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award after the season’s end, and claimed the Rookie of the Month Award in both July and August of that year. By the end of his short career, Fernandez’s win–loss record was 38–17, which was one of the best among all pitchers his age.
However, Fernandez’s road to the big show was not an easy one. Born in Cuba, the young man tried and failed to defect three times before finally succeeding on the fourth attempt at age 15. As a result, most of his young adolescence was spent in and out of the Cuban jail. To top it all off, during his fourth attempt, his mother fell out of the boat they were leaving on, and he risked everything to jump in and save her. Eventually, he found his way to Mexico, and on April 5, 2008, he made his fateful journey to Tampa, Florida.
In 2013, the Marlins arranged to have Fernandez’s grandmother—who was a large inspiration to his baseball career, and unfortunately stuck in Cuba, as far as he knew—come to visit him the day before he was awarded the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Olga Fernandez Romero arrived while José was speaking in an interview, and the smile that the young pitcher had on his face lit up the room.
Even going under the knife could not put a damper on Fernandez, as he underwent Tommy John Surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) in 2014, and was back to sliding his curveballs past bats and over the plate in the 2015 season, on July 2. That game he managed six strikeouts in six innings, and a homerun to boot. Fernandez told mlb.com: “I almost teared up before I threw my first pitch.” As it turned out, his mother and grandmother were there watching him play in his first game back after the surgery. “It was an experience I never had before. I’m thankful I got another chance to be on the mound.”
2016 was perhaps Fernandez’s best year. He started in a team-leading 29 games, racking up 16 wins and 8 losses. His 2.86 ERA was enough to put him in the top 10 pitchers in the league. This year, he was also one of the best strikeout pitchers in the league. He struck out a crazy 253 batters, and led the league in strikeouts per 9 innings. His effort had him in the discussion for this year’s NL Cy Young Award (awarded to the best pitcher in the MLB), and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was posthumously awarded the honor.
Fernandez died late this September in a boating accident in Miami, at the age of 24. He leaves behind a girlfriend with an unborn child, a retired number 16, an eternal legacy in the city of Miami, and a smile that will not soon be forgotten.