In the early morning of September 25, 2016, the world of sports lost an iconic figure. José Fernández, at just 24 years old, fell victim to a tragic boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach, Florida where he and two friends crashed into an unseen jetty. The Miami Marlins pitcher was an inspiration to many when it came to perseverance and strength—not only on the field, but also in his personal life.
Fernández was born in Santa Clara, Cuba under communist rule and attempted to escape the island but failed three separate times, each capture resulting in serving time in prison for “being a traitor to Fidel Castro.” At the age of 15, José was finally able to successfully defect from the country by boat across the Gulf of Mexico. After saving his mother from drowning amid the rough waters of the Gulf excursion, the two were eventually reunited with his father and free to start a new life in the United States.
After José played four years of varsity baseball for Brauilo Alanso High School, the Marlins offered him a $2 million signing bonus as he was beginning minor league play. After only one year in the minors, Fernández began his career in the majors and was named the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year. His ability to rise up against the negativity around him was a skill learned young and is what fueled him forward into three successful years with the MLB.
Although his career was stolen from him at an early age, many say José Fernández had the potential to be a Hall of Famer. His 2014 and 2015 seasons were cut short due to arm injuries, but the beginning of this 2016 season was highlighted by incredible statistics—averaging 12.5 strikeouts per 9 innings, the fifth-best average in major league history.
The point in Fernández’s history that really stood out was when he hit his first major-league home run. The young athlete was shocked by his accomplishment and stood at the plate to watch his ball soar over the left field fence. This action set the opposing team over the edge and managed to clear the benches, creating an incredible brawl in the middle of the game.
After reflecting on his actions and understanding where he went wrong, Fernández became a model for playing the game “the right way.” He recognized that the league he was playing in was no longer high school and claimed, “This is a professional game, and we should be professional players.”
From then on, the right-handed pitcher continued to blast homers and trot the bases, but with a simple smile on his face—a smile all should remember him for.
When you grow up in a communist state, are imprisoned three times before the age of 15, and abandon your life to start over hundreds of miles away, suddenly, standing on a mound in front of thousands doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
Taken from the world far too young, José Fernández was unable to complete some personal goals and break all of the records most professional athletes set out to break. However, he chose to tackle the life and career he was gifted with grace and poise, setting standards high and shaping the name of the game for future athletes around the world.