Jose Fernandez: Your Team, Your City, Your Family

For the last three days, going back to Sunday September 25, pretty much a lot of the sporting news has been centered on the tragic death of star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, Jose Fernandez. I first heard the news early Sunday morning around 8 A.M. My dad came rushing into my room and woke me up telling me the horrific boating accident that lead to the death of Jose and his two friends Emilio and Eduardo.

I didn’t believe my dad. I just froze and tried to go back to sleep, honestly I thought it was a hoax. That happens often to celebrities. As soon as my face hit my pillow my phone was blowing up with text messages and phone calls. This doesn’t include all the social media updates I already received while I was sleeping.

I got out of my bed and ran to the living room where I found my dad watching MLB Network. Any news network my dad changed the channel to, they were all talking about the same thing. The headline in each channel had the same three words in the same sentence: Jose, Fernandez and Dead.

I didn’t know how to react. I still didn’t believe this was happening. For the next two hours I watched MLB Network as the Marlins had the press conference. I’ll be honest, seeing those grown men cry, including Coach Don Mattingly, finally made the news sink into me. He’s gone. And seeing them cry made me want to cry. I felt part of the team; a team that I’ve loved and followed since I was able to pick up a baseball.

Through the ups and downs of this franchise, Jose Fernandez finally made me feel consistency with a player. The Marlins have had many fire sales in their young history but with Jose on the team, I felt as if he will be here in Miami for the long run.

I started getting that feeling as soon as Jose stepped foot on that mound for the first time in 2013. In 2012 when Marlins Park opened the Marlins were loaded with high priced talent that was newly acquired in the off season. After a last place finish, the franchise did what they knew best and dismantled the team. In the short term it looked awful, but they had a plan for the long run that we fans couldn’t see.

In comes this 21 year old with a smile that is brighter than all the stadium lights put together. This rookie was right away a leader guiding this new wave of young talent to hopefully a winning future.

And before we can even admire and witness this magnificent career to blossom, the worse happens. Nobody can beat death, but could this death in particular be avoidable? Who knows, and by now we will never know.

I’m not here to give you the stats on Jose and describe how good his stuff was. He has the talent you can Google and Youtube that. But what I can tell you is how Jose touched my heart and the hearts of many in South Florida.

I was fortunate enough to be born in the U.S. and both my parents, who were both born in Cuba, were able to successfully leave Cuba though they had different stories. My mom left when she was two years old so my grandparents would tell me how they left but my dad had a different story. He left at 22 years old leaving behind his home, friends and family. He can go on for days telling me stories on what he experienced on that island and I love listening to every moment of it. There was no raft or boats involved. There wasn’t any crazy government chase but any person in that situation can tell you that it wasn’t easy leaving all that behind.

With Jose, after hearing this story, it sounds like it was from a movie. He had to try over three times to escape communism Cuba on boat and after one of his failed escapes he was thrown into prison for two months at 15 years old.

Jose resembled Miami in so many ways. His story was a story that so many people can relate to and gave others hope as well.

The American Dream was his goal and he was going to do anything in his power to accomplish it. Jose brought baseball back to Miami. As Cubans, baseball is our sport no matter what city we live in. It is in our blood and when Jose came to pitch every fifth day we felt our blood racing through our bodies. We felt his passion when he played and he brought this Hispanic and fun atmosphere to the ballpark that no other player brought.

Jose didn’t make me feel I was watching a baseball game. He made me feel I was watching a pickup baseball game in the streets in Cuba. The same exact way I visualized my dad playing baseball on the streets as a kid when he told me his stories.

What finally hit home to me was the first game back after Jose’s death. In my 16 years of playing baseball I’ve seen and played in a lot of games. I’ve seen the Marlins win two World Series, I’ve seen no hitters and I’ve seen walk off home runs. But I have never seen, nor will I ever see a game like that in my life.

When the song “Take me out to the ball game” was played to the tune of trumpet, I lost it. It hit me that this is more than a game. This is about life and cherishing it every single day.  I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer as I was sitting next to my dad watching the game on T.V. I am sorry but if you didn’t get chills in that moment then you’re not a baseball fan.

Then when the national anthem came on everything came full circle for me. Every Marlins game I have gone to I get chills when the national anthem plays. But this game in particular, there was a whirlwind of emotions I couldn’t control.

Jose always said that the greatest thing he will ever accomplish is becoming a U.S. citizen. When the national anthem played that Monday night in Marlins Park it was more than an anthem. It was played for Jose. And I immediately thought to myself why I always get chills when the national anthem plays at the park.

I think of my dad. I think of many Cuban fathers that left everything behind and they can fast forward their lives to be standing next to their son in the land of the free watching America’s pastime, with their right hand over their heart to honor the greatest country on earth.

I thank Jose for helping me see that and wish I can be able to tell him that in person. For many people Jose was a son, a brother, a nephew and even a grandson.

Jose wasn’t just a baseball player. He was an artist and his slider was a stroke of beauty like a paintbrush touching the canvas.

But to me, Jose embodied what an entire country is fighting for; to be born into freedom. Jose resembled my dad’s hard work and will, he resembled my mom’s love and caring nature for everyone, and he resembled my family’s values and ethics to stand by every day.

Jose Fernandez was and will always be Miami. JDF16 RIP