Posted on September 26, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Sunday was one of the most difficult days in recent memory for the baseball world, which awoke to the news that Florida Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez had died overnight in a boating accident off the coast of Miami. Fernandez was one of the brightest young stars in the game, and news of his death shocked and saddened people throughout the baseball world.
The Marlins cancelled their game Sunday against the Atlanta Braves, as a grieving team stood behind the organization’s leaders during a press conference in which Marlins president David Samson and manager Don Mattingly both fought back tears while speaking of Fernandez. Players, managers, and team officials league wide expressed their shock and grief throughout the day, as games were played as scheduled by every team except the Marlins and Braves.
In Tampa Bay, the Rays cancelled a pregame ceremony scheduled for Sunday to honor retiring Red Sox slugger David Ortiz per the request of Ortiz. “I don’t have the words to describe the pain I feel,” said Ortiz, who had a memorable moment with Fernandez at this year’s all-star game. Fernandez teased before the game that he would throw Ortiz a pitch right down the middle so he could hit a home run in his final All-Star Game. When the two faced off in the game, the at bat ended in a walk and both players laughing as Ortiz trotted to first base. Fernandez confessed earlier in the summer that Ortiz was his favorite player. Ortiz could be seen with tears in his eyes during a moment of silence in honor of Fernandez before Sunday’s game.
In Los Angeles, fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig hung a Dodgers jersey in his team’s dugout with the no. 16 and “Fernandez” on the back. Another of Fernandez’s countrymen, Yoenis Cespedes, did the same thing in the New York Mets dugout. The Mets plan to hang that jersey in their dugout on Monday night when they play the Marlins in Miami’s first game since the tragedy, a game that Fernandez was originally scheduled to start.
Puig and Cespedes, like most of the Cuban players in the majors, knew Fernandez well and shared a special kinship with him, as they do with all of the other Cubans who risked their lives to defect to the United States. Fernandez famously had three unsuccessful attempts at leaving Cuba before succeeding on his fourth effort.
“He was a very, very close friend of mine,” Puig said. “He was one of the first people I knew here and I was thinking just a couple of weeks ago we were having dinner in Miami. He was a very good guy and I also liked the way he played baseball, the way he treated his mom, his grandma, his teammates and other ballplayers like myself. The next time we play Miami, it won’t be the same.”
“The loss of Fernandez was very tough,” Cespedes said on Sunday. “Even if everyone here wasn’t very good or close friends with him, we all knew how charismatic he was, and how much the game meant to him.”
“Very painful news for everybody, but especially for the Cuban community,” said St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena, another Cuban player. “He was one of those guys that everybody loved. He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, that’s a big loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and the Marlins organization and the fans, but it hits a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family.”
The tragedy also hit hard for Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, whose family has roots in Cuba. “It’s terrible, terrible, waking up this morning and reading a hundred texts from our family in Miami and people,” Arenado said. “It’s just a sad thing. I can’t believe it. He’s so young. He was a star in the game and one of the best pitchers in the game. It’s just a crazy thing. It’s terrible. I feel so bad for his family and the Cuban community, and mostly his family. It hits home with my family, being from Cuba and the things he had to go through to get here, and what his family has had to go through to get here, too. He had to do a lot of things to get them over here. To see that happen is just so sad and terrible.”
Fernandez, 24, made just 76 career starts for the Marlins, a number that seems unfathomably low for a pitcher who made such a profound impact on the game and had already distinguished himself as one of the best pitchers in the game, with the best undoubtedly yet to come. Fernandez made what would be his final start last Tuesday against the Washington Nationals, tossing eight shut out innings, allowing just three hits and striking out 12. On Sunday, Martin Prado shared that Fernandez told one of his teammates after that start that he thought it was “his best ever.”