Baseball fans woke up Sunday morning to learn that Miami Marlins phenomenal pitcher José Fernández was killed in a tragic boating accident in Miami. Fernández was only 24 years old.
Police responded to a call about a boating accident just off of Miami Beach, where a SeaVee was found to have slammed into a jetty, flipping the boat upside down. Police found three bodies, which were confirmed to be José Fernández and his two friends: Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25.
“The Miami Marlins organization is devastated by the tragic loss of José Fernandez,” a team statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time.”
“I see such a little boy,” said Marlins Manager Don Mattingly, with tears in his eyes. “The way he played, there was just joy with him when he played.”
“The clubhouse or the team won’t be the same without you but you’ll always be with us,” said Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich. “I know I’ll see you again someday. Love you man.”
José Fernández had made a large impact on the game of baseball in a short amount of time. The 2011 14th overall selection made his major league debut on April 7, 2013, and he took the league by storm. In his debut season, he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award, finished third in the Cy Young race, named to the 2013 MLB All-Star Game, and won the Rookie of the Month Award for the months of July and August. In the 2014 season, Fernández underwent Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him the entire season and he returned on July 2, 2015. In the 2016 season, he made the All-Star Game, and on his last game against the Washington Nationals he pitched eight scoreless innings, striking out 12 batters in a 1-0 victory. Fernández’s 2016 season records included an MLB leading 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings, 253 strikeouts (Marlins season record) in 182 1/3 innings. He finished with a 16-8 record, with a 2.86 ERA. Fernández finished his career with a 38-17 record, .691 winning percentage and a 2.58 ERA.
Fernández’s story of how he made it to the big leagues is very interesting. Living in Santa Clara, Cuba, and playing youth baseball, Fernández dreamed of making it to the United States in order to pursue a Major League baseball career. Fernández unsuccessfully attempted to defect three times, with each attempt resulting in a prison term. In 2007, Fernández successfully defected from Cuba with his mother and sister, however on that attempt, his mother fell overboard due to turbulent waters, and Fernandez dove into the water to save her life. Fernández, his mother, and his sister reached Mexico and later moved to Tampa Bay, Florida in 2008.
With Fernández’s sudden loss, all of MLB mourned, holding moments of silence at each game on Sunday. The Marlins cancelled their game against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday due to this tragic news. Fernández was scheduled to pitch on Monday at home against the New York Mets.
On Monday night, the Marlins held a very emotional tribute to Fernández before their game against the Mets. The pitcher’s mound was adorned with Fernández’s uniform number, painted into the dirt. All Marlins players wore Fernández’s uniform number and name. A few Marlins players, including Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon, stood alongside the mound, while the rest of the Marlins and Mets lined up against the first and third base foul lines. A moment of silence was followed by a somber rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on trumpet, a local high school choir singing the national anthem, and Marlins and Mets players giving each other hugs in this moment of solidarity. The entire Marlins team knelt alongside the mound, writing inscriptions in the dirt, and each rubbing dirt from the mound onto their pants, just like Fernández would do in every game he pitched. Stanton would give a speech to the entire team at the mound, telling them to win this game for José.
At the bottom of the first inning, Dee Gordon hit a leadoff homerun to right field. Gordon rounded the bases, bawling, crossing home plate, and falling into the arms of his equally emotional coaches and teammates. Tears flowed from the Marlins, Mets, fans at the game, and baseball fans around the world who were watching the game. It truly was an emotional moment as a sports fan, and gives more meaning to the phrase, “Baseball is family.”
“I ain’t never hit a ball that far, even in [batting practice],” said Gordon of his leadoff homerun. “I told the boys ‘if you all don’t believe in God, you better start.’ For that to happen today, we had some help.”
After the Marlins 7-3 victory, the team returned to the field and huddled around the mound, with each player laying their caps on the dirt. After the fans had emptied Marlins Park, the team returned to the mound to give a toast to the sky in honor of Fernández. The Marlins organization announced that they will retire Fernández’s No. 16.
Fernández was known for how much passion he had for the game. It was as if the joy of playing baseball as a child never left Fernández, and he was never ashamed to show it. Currently, there is talk to name a “most passionate player award” in honor of Fernández. Fernández was also very kind to fans, especially to children. Fernández once approached a crying boy in the stands, giving him a hug and asking the boy for his autograph. Another instance was trading baseball cards from the top of the Marlins dugout with a young boy sitting in the front row. Fernández never forgot where he came from and wanted to return the favor to young baseball fans.