By Glen Sparks
The life of Jose Fernandez ended in the warm, calm waters off Miami Beach.
The Miami Marlins ace died, along with two friends, following a boating accident early Sunday morning. While on routine patrol, U.S. Coast Guard personnel discovered a capsized craft on a rock jetty at about 3:15 a.m., according to news reports. Divers with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue found two bodies underneath the 32-foot SeaVee. They found a third victim on the rocks.
An investigation into the accident will take several days to complete, said Lorenzo Veloz, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The boat probably hit the jetty at between 50 mph and 65 mph, Veloz said.
Baseball continues to mourn Fernandez, who was just 24 years old.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman tweeted: “Sick to my stomach. Can’t believe this.”
Fernandez’ good friend Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers sent out this tweet: “You loved striking me out and teasing me about it. I’m going to miss you, bro.”
The Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer, who grew up in south Florida, tweeted: “Absolutely crushed hearing the news about Jose. Brought so much energy and passion toward life. You will be missed, Papo.”
Evan Longoria, third baseman for the Tampa Rays, tweeted his grief about the tragedy: “Words can’t express the shock and sadness the MLB community feels over the loss of Jose Fernandez. Thoughts and prayers for all his family.”
Fernandez, a big right-hander (6-feet-3-inches, 240 pounds) with a ready smile and an electric arm, played only four seasons in the majors. He pitched in just 76 games–all of them starts–and compiled a 38-17 won-loss record.
Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom told an MLB reporter: “He was very fun to watch play the game. I don’t think anybody really brought more energy out there to the field, and even when he was in the dugout, you’d look over there and he’d been rooting on his team, probably more than anyone you’ve ever seen.”
Fernandez was born July 31, 1992, in Santa Clara, Cuba. The Fernandez family tried and failed to defect three times from their native land. In 2007, they were finally successful.
The family, together with several others, set off on a flimsy boat. One night, the waves were high, and the people were frightened. A woman fell into the frothy surf and began to yell. She was drowning. Jose Fernandez, 15 years old, jumped into the dark saltwater. He swam toward the woman and saved her life as the waves shook them in the face. The woman, it turned out, was Jose’s mom.
The Marlins drafted Fernandez in the first round of the 2011 draft, out of Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa. The following year, he went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA for minor-league squads in Jupiter. Fla., and Greensboro, N.C. That flashy campaign earned Fernandez a nod as the game’s fifth-best prospect, according to Baseball America.
Fernandez put his four-seam fastball and assortment of tough off-speed pitches on display for the Marlins in 2013 and earned National League Rookie of the Year honors. He went 12-6 with a glittery 2.19 ERA (176 ERA+). In 172.2 innings, he struck out 187 batters. Named to the All-Star team, ernandez finished third in the Cy Young race.
Not many batters squared up Fernandez. Troy Tulowitski, then of the Colorado Rockies, ripped a hot liner off him one game. Fernandez snagged the ball; Tulo couldn’t believe it.
“Yeah,” Fernandez said. The pitcher grinned. He grinned and laughed a lot. He was good, he knew it, and he enjoyed himself. Jose Fernandez loved baseball.
Then, he suffered a setback. The Marlins placed Fernandez on the 15-day disabled list May 12, 2014, due to elbow pain. An MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the right elbow. Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery on May 16. He started eight games that season and went 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA (153 ERA+)
During limited action in 2015, Fernandez pitched 64.2 innings over 11 starts. He compiled a 6-1 record and posted a 2.92 ERA (131 ERA+).
Fernandez was 16-8 in 2016 through 29 starts. He had a 2.86 ERA (137 ERA+) and, most amazingly, he had struck out 253 hitters in just 182.1 innings (12.5 K/9, tops in the league). Not surprisingly, he made his second All-Star team.
Marlins owner Jeff Loria sent out a press release following the accident. It read in part: “It is with the deepest sorrow that I, together with my family and the entire Marlins organization, mourn the tragic loss of Jose. Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest. Jose left us far too soon, but his memory will endure in all of us.”
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred also issued a statement on Fernandez: “… He was one of our game’s great young stars, who made a dramatic impact on and off the field since his debut in 2013. …”
Fernandez’ career numbers, now frozen, read like this: 38-17, 2.58 ERA (150 ERA+), 589 strikeouts in 471.1 innings, 6.8 H/9, 11.2 K/9. He was special. Fernandez pitched his last game on Tuesday, Sept. 20, against the Washington Nationals in Miami. It may have been the best one of his career. He threw eight shutout innings and struck out 12. He gave up just three hits and didn’t allow a walk as the Marlins won 1-0.
Miami’s first-year manager Don Mattingly fought through tears as he spoke about Fernandez on Sunday. Several Marlins players stood in the background for one of the saddest press conferences you’ll ever see. “When I think of José, I see such a little boy, the way he played,” Mattingly said. “When you watch kids play Little League, that’s the joy that José played with and the passion that he felt about playing. That’s what I think about.”
Outside Marlins Park, many fans placed flowers as a makeshift memorial to Fernandez. A member of the team’s grounds crew wrote in Fernandez’ uniform No. 16 on the mound. Someone else added a Marlins cap and some flowers.
Retired pitcher Dan Haren, a teammate of Fernandez’ in 2015, tweeted: “Jose Fernandez is one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever played with. He loved life, he loved baseball…..he will be missed dearly. Jose Fernandez is one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever played with. He loved life, he loved baseball…..he will be missed dearly.