The Marlins’ ace was just 24
By: Tim Williams – Sports Talk Florida National Baseball Columnist
At about 3 AM, Miami police received a call about a possible boating accident. A fire rescue crew who responded to the accident found three people dead and a 30-foot boat was overturned after hitting the rocks.
Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was among those found dead. He was 24 years old.
The pitcher from Santa Clara, Cuba, came to the United States at fifteen years old, risking harsh punishment from the Cuban authorities for defecting. Finding himself in Tampa, he leaned on a pitching coach who had also defected for help.
Fernandez went to Braulio Alonso High in Tampa, and starred there as a baseball player, twice being part of state championship teams there for the Ravens. He threw two no-hitters in his senior year, an impressive enough high school career to make him a first round draft pick for the Marlins in 2011.
His 2013 rookie season was an immediate success. Fernandez made the National League All Star team that year, and had some jaw-dropping performances in the second half with Miami. It was more than his arm that got attention, though, as his personality was infectious. People who don’t typically follow the Marlins were first introduced to Jose Fernandez as a big-smiling young ace that could put up high strikeout numbers, hit better than most pitchers, and make flashy plays in the field.
Yes. He caught that.
As someone who came over from Cuba, played high school ball in Tampa, and found himself settling in Miami as a professional, Jose Fernandez was easily one of the most genuine Florida stories to ever suit up for the Marlins. It was like Livan Hernandez, except Jose was much younger, and if we’re being honest, Jose was better.
In his rookie season, Fernandez threw 172.2 innings. He struck out 187 batters and posted an ERA of 2.19. That was good enough to win rookie of the year in 2013, and good enough for third place in the NL Cy Young Award race. Tommy John Surgery during the 2014 season cut into both his 2014 and 2015 seasons. This was supposed to be his triumphant return. Until this morning, it was certainly that.
This year, in a year where Clayton Kershaw has posted what many people believe to be the finest work of his already great career, Jose Fernandez led the National League in Fielding Independent Pitching, a metric favored by the stat-forward people. He posted 253 strikeouts in 182.1 innings, good for a 12.5 K/9IP ratio. He made his second All Star team.
When Fernandez pitched, Marlins fans called it “Jose Day.” A hashtag to the same end became popular. It seemed as though, with LeBron James out of town, Miami might have been Jose’s for the taking.
The Marlins issued a statement this morning: “The Miami Marlins organization is devastated by the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time.” Miami’s game on Sunday against the Atlanta Braves has been canceled.
Aledmys Diaz of the St. Louis Cardinals grew up on the same street as Fernandez, back in Santa Clara. Fernandez has suggested that it was Diaz’ uncle that sparked his interest in baseball. On July 28 of this year, the two met as Major Leaguers for the first time, with Diaz homering in his first at-bat off of his old friend.
Fernandez was very close to his family. His grandmother was able to make it over to the United States in 2013, and it was a major moment for the pitcher. He came over himself with his mother. The story goes, Fernandez had to dive into the water to save his mother when she fell off the boat to Florida.
From a baseball perspective, which seems so secondary right now, Fernandez might have been the finest pitcher the Marlins have ever seen. Livan Hernandez led them to the 1997 title, and the 2003 team with Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett won another, but none of those guys were nearly as electrifying as Jose Fernandez.
At the moment, little beyond the bare facts of the story from early this morning is known. There will likely be more information on the crash itself later. For now, there is only shock.