Baseball loses one of its brightest stars
The news broke early Sunday morning. Many of us weren’t even awake yet and only heard about it through friends after the fact.
No matter how you heard it though, it devastated you. Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins pitching extraordinaire, had been involved in a high-speed boat crash just off the coast of Miami.
The impact between the boat and the jetty had taken the lives of him and two of his friends. One of baseball’s brightest young stars is no longer with us.
It is a jarring and numbing experience for me whenever a ballplayer, active or retired, tragically passes away. When that ballplayer carries the potential and passion for the game of baseball that Jose Fernandez did, its impact is felt just a little bit stronger.
Yes, Fernandez was talented. There was never any doubt about that. He was originally drafted 14th overall in the 2011 Major League Baseball draft out of Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla. Upon arriving in the big leagues just a year and a half later, Fernandez almost immediately established himself as an up-and-coming star.
During that 2013 season, the righty went 12-6 with 187 strikeouts and a measly 2.19 earned run average. He was named to the National League All-Star team and won the National League Rookie of the Year award.
After suffering an elbow injury that sidelined him for most of 2014 and delayed the start of his 2015 campaign, Fernandez finally returned to full strength in 2016 with his trademark high-90s heat and wipeout slider, garnering an appearance in the All-Star Game again this year in San Diego.
He posted a record of 16-8 in 2016 with a 2.86 ERA and a mind-boggling 253 strikeouts. It appeared as if there was nothing the 24-year old couldn’t do on a major league mound.
What stood out even more than his talent, however, was the way in which Jose Fernandez approached the game of baseball.
A native of Cuba, Fernandez tried and failed three separate times to defect from the Communist country in order to pursue a better life in America. Three times he was caught, returned to Cuba, and imprisoned.
Undeterred, Fernandez and his mother tried once more in 2008 and were ultimately successful, landing in Florida and starting their lives anew.
It is evident that these humble beginnings taught Fernandez to appreciate every moment of success he and his family enjoyed. His energy on the diamond carried the potential to rub opponents the wrong way: after clubbing his first big-league homer, the righty’s reaction almost sparked a bench-clearing brawl against the Atlanta Braves. Yet, there was no doubt that he loved baseball.
On the mound or in the dugout, Fernandez seemed to always have a smile on his face. One moment that stands out came shortly after the last start Fernandez would ever make.
After returning to the dugout, after an 8-inning, 12-strikeout performance that ranks among Fernandez’s best, the young star could be seen laughing and grinning ear to ear as Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds enthusiastically embraced him and kissed him on the cheek.
It was this combination of style and substance that makes such a tragedy so hard to swallow. Almost immediately after news of Fernandez’s passing broke, heartfelt prayers poured out from teammates, opponents, and athletes around the country. His #16 jersey was hung in several dugouts around the league prior to games on Sunday, Sept. 25.
Giancarlo Stanton, a member of the Marlins roster for Fernandez’s entire career, shared an Instagram post that day that shared his sentiments.
“I’m still waiting to wake up from this nightmare,” Stanton said. “I lost my brother today, and I can’t comprehend it.”
His impact was felt here on campus as well. Senior Patrick Morgan echoed the feelings of baseball fans everywhere in describing a feeling of numbness.
“It just doesn’t feel real that he’s gone,” said Morgan. “I’m still in shock.”
Senior Jake Gray, a member of the University of San Diego club baseball team, was also troubled by the sudden death.
“He was easily one of the best pitchers in the game right now,” Gray said. “The fact that he’ll never have an opportunity to live up to the promise he so clearly had is devastating.”
Later Sunday evening, news broke that golf legend Arnold Palmer had died at the age of 87. The juxtaposition of the two athletes’ deaths made for a somber day. You had Fernandez, so young and full of life with his whole career and a chance to leave a legacy ahead of him.
Then you had Palmer, whose impact on sports came mostly in the 1950s and 60s, leaving a legacy that spans decades.
Fernandez was nothing short of the personification of baseball brilliance. His mastery on the mound could be outdone only by the genuine joy he felt in chasing the American Dream while playing the game he loved.
At this time of year, when pennant chases and October aspirations can feel so important, Fernandez, both in life and in death, is a reminder that baseball is just a game, meant to be enjoyed by all who are lucky enough to experience it.
Written by Noah Hilton, Contributor