As a youngster in Cuba, Fernandez played baseball in the streets every day.
"I hit rocks with a stick," Jose recalled. He said he would look for stick that had been on the ground fo a while, those that had been hardened in the Caribbean sun. He would take a paper sack from his home and go in search of rocks. The best rocks, of course, were those closest in size to a baseball. He played alone, for hours at a time.
"I spent my days hitting rocks," he said, "then picking tomatoes and onions and selling them door-to-door. I would make a lot of money. Four dollars. That's a lot of money over there. I was really, really poor. But compared to others? Not so poor. I'd walk 30 minutes to and from the stadium on the street in my cleats because I had only one other pair of shoes, and I didn't want to ruin my going-out shoes."
Fernandez and his family fled Cuba before his sophomore year of high school. They wanted a better life in the United States. And Jose wanted to reunite with is father Ramon, who successfully defected in 2005 and had set up in Tampa. Ramon was working at the airport and at a car wash in order to save enough money to bring his wife and son to the "Land of the Free."
Coming from Cuba isn't easy, and Jose won't forget what it took to get to the United States. On March 20, 2008, they pushed off of the white sandy beach and turned to watch the silhouette of his beloved country as it faded into the dark horizon.
He fled Cuba in the dark of night in an overcrowded raft with his mother, Maritza, and younger sister, Yalenis.
Jose remembers the waves pounding the deck of the boat, tossing it in all directions, leaving them convinced theat sonn they'd all be dead—plus all the seasickness; standing on the deck and violently vomitting overboard. Raging seas for a few days would be followed by dead calm. For almost a week, all Fernandez heard was the soft lapping of the sea.
The silence was incredible. Then, he remembers the violent crash of a rogue wave, a splash, and the sound of screaming. The stark silence of the previous week made the harsh screams all the more jarring.
As the sea grew rougher and the waves higher, the rafts tipped and Jose saw a passenger fall overboard. He dove in, unaware at first that he was about to save his own mother. Fernandez, 15 at the time, knew his mother couldn’t swim. When he reached his mother, Jose told his mother, "Grab my back, but don't push me down. Let's go slow and we'll make it."
She clung to his neck as he swam some 30 yards back to the boat. A rope was dropped, and they climbed aboard. His mom gagged, coughed and vomited seawater for an hour, but lived.
The three previous times Fernandez attempted to defect, he was captured and sent back to Cuba, where he was imprisoned. It was two weeks the first time, he said, a month the second, and two months the third. He was 14 years old and locked up with grown men. His cellmate was a man who had killed 7 people. Jose tries not to remember all those bodies cramped into so little space
"You got treated like an animal," he said.
There was no change of clothes. What Fernandez wore when he was imprisoned is what he wore until he was released. There was no shelter. Rain or shine, the prisoner dealt with the elements. Not once, however, was he deterred from his plan to reach the United States. It still took almost a month of secretly traveling in Mexico before Fernandez and his family reached Laredo, Texas on April 5, 2008. Soon, they were reunited with Jose's father.
- As a high school senior in Cuba, Fernandez threw two no-hitters. (Much of the above is via Bruce Wells - Baseball Digest - Jan 2014)
The first time his family tried to leave Cuba and was caught was also horrible. Jose was ostracized and branded a traitor after the family’s first attempt to escape failed. The Coast Guard caught the party 10 miles from Miami and Fernandez ultimately was sent back to Cuba. The life to which he returned was unrecognizable and equally unbearable.
“It was pretty bad,” Fernandez said. “People wouldn’t talk to me. Friends wouldn’t talk to me because they were scared. Some of my family wouldn’t even talk to me, so I lost everybody.”
Isolated and banned from both school and baseball, Fernandez and his family grew more determined to flee and risk everything, even their lives.
“I knew that,” he said. “My Mom knew it, too. We made the decision to try.”
Fernandez’s father, Ramon Jimenez, fled Cuba in 2005 and settled in Tampa. He learned of one of the family’s escape attempts and spent the next nine days without hearing additional news. A smoker at the time, Jimenez estimated going through four or five packs a day.
“The hard part is not being here alone, it’s being alone without hope,” Jimenez said in 2010. “I never expected they would be able to get out.” (Juan Rodriguez-Baseball America-4/02/13)
Jose's father, Ramon Jimenez, set out to get his son the instruction he needed. He knew Orlando Chinea, a renowned trainer and pitching coach in Cuba, lived in the Tampa area. Chinea escaped in June 2008 on the same boat with Kendrys Morales and others.
Like Fernandez, Chinea is from Santa Clara. The two were born in the same hospital. And like Fernandez, he had tried to escape and failed. Upon Chinea’s return, the Cuban government banned him from baseball and monitored his activities.
Upon first glance at the scrawny, 170-pound Fernandez, Chinea wasn’t sure he could do much with the kid. After all, Chinea had worked with Cuba’s best—Rolando Arrojo, Jose Contreras, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, a young Livan Hernandez. And in the 1990s he spent five years in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants as a trainer.
“He wasn’t a pitcher,” said Chinea, adding that Fernandez threw 82 mph when they started working together. “He was a boy.
Chinea, the Cuban trainer, studied the training methods they used in Japan when he lived there. He also studied their approach to pitching mechanics. He soon became a disciple and implanted much ofwhat he gathered in his new pupil.
Rarely did they see the inside of a gym. Chinea preferred sweating under the sun and designed workouts that included everything from chopping down trees to flipping truck tires to pushing cars to running in the sand. He also incorporated the techniques of Coop Derenne, a kinesiology and rehabilitation science professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and author of several baseball training books.
Chinea also had Fernandez use baseballs ranging from three to seven ounces (a normal baseball is about five ounces). The lighter ones help increase arm acceleration and the heavier orbs facilitate explosiveness.
Chinea instructed him to count his steps from the dugout to the mound and back. If they didn’t match, something was wrong.
The training took place five and sometimes seven days a week, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on days after the Alonso team practiced. In Chinea, Fernandez found “an amazing guy,” not only a coach but a confidant.
“I told him clearly that if he was capable of leaving Cuba with his mother, board a boat and risk his life, he couldn’t have fear or feel any kind of pressure or have a negative thought when he was on the mound,” Chinea said. “And he had to do the job perfectly because as immigrants we have to be twice as good.
“He has a good heart, is responsible in everything. He learned English here at 15 years old. I told him the No. 1 characteristic of a great pitcher is intelligence, not just throwing 100 miles per hour. You’re going to subdue hitters and have to be very intelligent, very analytical, and not let yourself be driven by emotions.” (Juan Rodriguez-Baseball America-04/02/13)
June 2011: The Marlins chose Fernandez as their first round pick in the draft, and 14th player overall, out of Alonso High School in Tampa, Florida. He signed on the August 15 deadline for a bonus of $2 million, via scout Brian Kraft.
"The thing you like about him is if you get up on him, he's got a baby face, but his body, he's a big man," Marlins V.P. of scouting and player development Jim Fleming said. "He's a guy that's got great work ethic and stays in command of that body. We've watched that through the past year. He's become more fit and that was something we liked because he's trending the way he's going to have to be. "Any big man like that has to stay on top of his body and we really feel he'll do that. The durability factor you always wonder about when you take a high school guy as they physically mature, it's not as big a deal here."
- Jose taught himself English by listening to teammates, listening intently in class, watching TV and pushing himself to learn to read even when he didn’t understand much of the language.
Fernandez almost didn't get to pitch in 2011, because he was temporarily suspended pending an investigation into how much high school baseball he played in Cuba. But it got cleared up.
And, in 2011, Jose's senior year at Alonso High School in Tampa, he committed to a baseball scholarship to the Unniversity of South Florida in his hometown. (He graduated high school with about a 3.3 GPA.)
Fernandez did sign with the Marlins after they made him their #1 pick in 2011—the 14th player chosen overall. He signed for a bonus of $2 million.
In the spring of 2012, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Fernandez as the third-best prospect in the Marlins' organization.
They had Jose as the #1 prospect in the Marlins' farm system in the spring of 2013.
While Jose has a serious, confident demeanor on the mound, it is easy for him to relax and have fun in the clubhouse. He is a solid teammate who is motivated both on and off the field. He has a drive to win.
He is coachable and exhibits mental maturity beyond his years. (2013)
- Fernandez walks proud and carries an ornery presence on the mound. He is cocky, not a jerk. He actually sounds to be quite popular with his teammates and he cared about winning even on the days he was charting pitches in the stands. (Spring 2013)
- Jose has become friends with fellow Cuban and ex-big leaguer Rolando Arrojo, who advises him on what to expect at the next level.
- On April 24, 2012, Fernandez tossed the first six innings of a combined no-hitter against Hickory, striking out eight and walking two. Through 28 innings, the 19-year-old Fernandez had compiled 37 strikeouts while allowing nine walks and 16 hits.
For the 2012 season, Jose went a combined 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 25 starts combined with Greensboro and Jupiter. He led the minors in WHIP (0.93) and narrowly missed out on the ERA title.
And Fernandez was named the Marlins 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. And Baseball America rated him as the #1 prospect in the South Atlantic League.
- During the 2012 season, Fernandez wore orange cleats and glove, which exemplifies the flair that is Jose Fernandez.
- "Jose is a tremendous teammate. The team is important to him. Winning is very important to him. He’s not just getting his work in,” Jupiter manager Andy Haines said late in 2012. “Winning the game for his team is very important for him. He has the mentality of a true No. 1 pitcher.”
- There are some concerns about Fernandez's body. He’s already a little soft. If he doesn’t watch his weight, he could balloon as he matures, although his athleticism and feel for pitching seems to indicate that he can be effective even if he’s carrying a few extra pounds. (Spring 2013)
- Jose's confidence—or cockiness—earns him comparisons to Roger Clemens. It's not arrogance if you can back it up, which Fernandez can.
Once Fernandez escaped to the United States, he did not sit back and relax. He knew that was only the first step toward the big leagues. As well as pitching Alonso High School in Tampa to two state titles in his three years in high school, Fernandez worked to assimilate into the culture and make sure he understood how the American society operated.
He speaks flawless English, never hesitating as he answers questions, and never feigning a lack of comprehension.
"I took three English classes each of my three years in high school because I wanted to be able to communicate, I wanted to have an idea of how the country works," Fernandez said. "It is a lot different [from Cuba]."
The goal, however, has not changed for Fernandez since he first began to think about defecting to the United States.
"I want to be the best," he said. "I don't want to be the second-best. I want to be the best."
Pitching comes easily considering that he learned the game as a child without the benefit of a baseball.
“I was throwing rocks. In my neighborhood in Cuba, the streets, they’re not paved, so there’s dirt, rocks,’’ Jose said. “I would wake up 5 in the morning every day while everybody was sleeping and go get a few pieces of wood and rocks and hit and throw.’’
Fernandez said he eventually used a bat his grandmother, Olga, fashioned from a tree limb with a machete. After she made him breakfast, he would walk with the bat for 15 minutes until he reached an open field. There, surrounded by farm animals and little else, 5-year-old Jose Fernandez fantasized about playing in a Major League game.
"I would go there for two or three hours and get rocks and play games: 'OK , leading off, whoever. Second guy, bunt. Third guy, hit a home run.'"
At the time, Fernandez was happy just to fantasize about baseball. But that didn’t mean life was easy.
"Cuba, like everybody knows, is stuck in 1959—the cars, the games little kids play," he said. “I learned a lot about life. It was hard. My family, they were doing good compared to other people. But even for us it was hard to eat, get clothes.’’
A man who lived three houses away from Fernandez noticed the boy’s passion for baseball and invited him to play organized games with older kids in the neighborhood.
By the time he was 9, Fernandez was playing on a Cuban national youth team with older boys. “And I wasn’t even pitcher back then," he said. “I was a third baseman and shortstop.’’He said he started pitching when he was 14—around the same time he and his family started trying to escape.
April 2013: No matter the level, batters don't unnerve Jose Fernandez. Actually, very little makes him nervous at all. "The only thing I'm scared of are roller coasters and snakes," he said. "Everything else, after that, I'm good about. Those two things, I don't like."
To Fernandez, facing big league hitters is a dream come true. For the opportunity to play baseball and enjoy quality of life.
Fernandez, the youngest Marlins pitcher ever to make his MLB debut, struck out eight while allowing one run on three hits over five innings. The eight strikeouts are the most ever by a Marlin in a big league debut.
The day before, Fernandez put his path to the big leagues into perspective. "Baseball, it is important," he said the day before taking the mound. "This is one of the biggest things. But I'm not scared to face David Wright."
After the game, Fernandez claimed he didn't have any jitters. "I don't think I was nervous at all," he said. "I was actually more nervous when I was warming up in the bullpen. It was fun."
Pressure has a completely different meaning for Fernandez because his journey to the Majors was anything but conventional. Five years and two days later, the righty made his Major League debut. He is making the leap from Class A to the big leagues as the Marlins' fifth starter. Fernandez's first pitch came at 1:26 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 7, 2013—a 93-mph called strike to Collin Cowgill.
Fear is something he has learned to dismiss.
"The only thing I was scared about was getting in that boat, getting shot at," Fernandez said. "Sometimes jumping in the water. After that, I'm not scared about anything else. I've been in jail. I've been shot at. I've been in the water. What am I going to do? That's why, when people say to me, 'Are you nervous, are you scared?' I'm not scared to do anything."
From his first pitch, Fernandez was a picture of complete composure. He had an eight-pitch first inning with seven strikes. In the second inning, he struck out the side in order.
Since 1916, Fernandez is just the seventh starter under age 21 to strike out eight or more in his MLB debut. The last to do so was David Clyde, who fanned eight with Texas in 1973.
One of Jose's heroes from his youth is Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. So on June 14, 2013, during his rookie season with the Marlins, he got to face the Cards and said, "One of the special moments during the game was the first time I went up to hit," Fernandez said. "Molina was catching. I look up to that guy. When they won the World Series and I saw him catch, I said, 'Man, I wish one day I could shake his hand.' I was in high school back then.
"I told him, 'Hey, it's a pleasure to be playing against you.' He said, 'No, it's my pleasure.' That was pretty great."
Molina had never met Fernandez before the at-bat, but he was sure to tell the 20-year-old that he had been following him.
"Jose has tremendous talent, and what I have seen from him has been really impressive," Molina said. "He shows that he wants to win and wants to get better. I let him know that I admire his game and enjoy watching him pitch. I told him to keep working hard and making the most of his talent. It's great to see another Latin player having success in the big leagues. I am really happy for him."
Selected to the All-Star Game in his rookie season, 2013, Jose couldn't wait to meet David Ortiz.
"I do for sure want to shake his hand and tell him he's my favorite player," Fernandez said. "It's going to be fun."
He was Miami's lone 2013 All-Star and became the youngest Marlin to ever go to the Midsummer Classic. When he entered the game, he retired American League home run leader Chris Davis and former AL MVPs Dustin Pedroia and Miguel Cabrera.
Fernandez fanned Pedroia and Davis, joining Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller as the only starting pitchers younger than 21 to strike out two or more batters in the All-Star Game.
Fernandez popped on top of the baseball world in 2013, providing Marlins' fans with a new hero, within a woeful season.
"I think it's great," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "Jose's kind of helped give the Marlins an identity again. I think when you talk about the Miami Marlins, you talk about Jose Fernandez and our pitching staff, and that's great."
Redmond remembers another rookie sensation that brought hype and energy to a Marlins team: lefthander Dontrelle Willis, who won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2003. Though Willis was called up during the season, the two share key similarities.
"You have a young kid coming to the big leagues, energizes a team," Redmond said. "[Fernandez] has. He's excited the fan base here and I know how much he means to our ballclub, and it's a great thing because he's a great teammate, too."
August 30, 2013 : Fernandez established a Marlins rookie strikeout record giving Fernandez 167 on the season, breaking Scott Olsen's previous mark of 166 set in 2006.
I'm Jose Fernandez, and this is a day in my life:
Jose: I'm actually looking at the sea. I love the sea; I enjoy watching it in the morning. Looking at cruise ships coming in and out. It's beautiful. I like Miami a lot.
Jesse: What is a normal day like for Jose Fernandez?
Jose: It would be to go out to the ballpark and learn something new, every day. For example, I have to throw a bullpen session today, and I have to work on things that are good for me. I want to pitch a good bullpen session, and that would be a great day for me. The other thing I'd like to see, God willing, is to have my grandmother see me pitch live.
Broadcaster: Jose Fernandez, a young pitcher with a story straight out of a movie, friends. And here he comes, with the third strike to Dustin Pedroia at 96 mph. Jose Fernandez, debuting at the 2013 All-Star Game. A high pitch, and there's the swing and a popup to foul territory and he's out. What a performance from the Cuban pitcher of the Miami Marlins.
Jesse: You know the names Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Livan Hernandez. What do they mean for you?
Jose: They set an example for me. They were in the Major Leagues and had great career accomplishments. They became role models—not just for myself, but also for all Cuban players who are in the Majors. They showed us that it's possible to be successful here.
Jesse: You've risen quickly in the Majors. What have the adjustments been like for you?
Jose: It has meant a lot of work for me, first and foremost. Second, it has been a matter of discipline as an athlete. It is important in order to accomplish the goals you want to achieve in life. And the support of your family is also paramount. My family has always been there for me. Another person who has been key in my life and in baseball is my personal pitching coach, Orlando Chinea. I have learned a lot from the work we've done together, and I'm very happy for all that.
Jesse: How was it like to be raised in Cuba, and how different was your life then, compared to the one you live now?
Jose: They're totally different. There are so many different things. The way of life in Cuba is completely different. For example, I used to ride a bike there. Now I drive a car, that's amazing. I've learned to deal with so many struggles, trying to make ends meet and not having a lot of material things. Sometimes I had to depend on so many things I couldn't control. It was so different, and here in America you have a lot more opportunities. This is, without a doubt, the best country in the world.
Jesse: You left Cuba when you were 15 years old. Can you tell us about that process, and why did you leave the country?
Jose: Quite simply, because I wanted to try things out and I wanted to prove to my family that I was going to pitch in the Major Leagues. I wanted to accomplish my dreams. It was a tough decision because I had to leave all my relatives there, especially my grandmother, whom I love immensely. Thank God, I came here. I worked very hard and started from the bottom up. I'm now going onward and upward.
Jesse: You were incarcerated several times before finally leaving Cuba. What was that experience like?
Jose: Honestly, I didn't enjoy it at all. It was tough, I had to learn and see things I shouldn't have seen and learned about. Those things happen in life for a reason. The best thing about it is that I learned a lot from that particular ordeal.
Jesse: Did you ever think about giving up?
Jose: Never. Not a chance. I made my decision right from the start and I kept strong. I always believed I'd get a chance to arrive to the United States. Thank God, we were able to arrive here. I'm happy we were able to.
Jesse: What kept you motivated during those times?
Jose: Baseball was what kept me going. It was the most important thing for me, to be honest. It was the desire to prove myself as a person that I'd be able to play in the Major Leagues.
Jesse: Tell us about baseball and your relationship with the game. When did you start to play it?
Jose: Since I was a very small kid. In Cuba, the streets are made of dirt and I was always pitching rocks and I carried a wooden stick all the time with me, hitting stones. I think it's something that came naturally for me, since no one else in my family was so inclined to the game. It was something that no one taught me and I just liked a lot. Baseball means everything to me. Baseball is respect, baseball is admiration. And you must dedicate plenty of hard work and respect to the game, which is the most important thing.
Jesse: You have brought the Miami community around the game. What is it like for you to play in Little Havana, in front of fans that have dealt with experiences similar as yours?
Jose: It's important for me. I want kids to see a positive role model from someone who has been through the same things they've been through. I want them to see that with hard work and dedication you can accomplish everything you want in life. (Jesse Sanchez - MLB.com - 8/31/13)
Fernandez met former Mets great Doc Gooden on September 13, 2013. Gooden was at Citi Field promoting his book, "Doc." The pitching icon took a few minutes between signing books to talk about Miami's rookie All-Star.
"The main thing with a guy like that is, on the field, continue to work hard and remember what got you there," Gooden said. "Stick around the veterans, and always be a student of the game. There is always something you can improve on. I know he had a great year, but you always constantly challenge yourself to improve. Keep working hard."
Like Fernandez, Gooden broke into the league at a young age. In 1984, Gooden was a 19-year-old who went on to win National League Rookie of the Year.
Fernandez opened the season at age 20, and he turned 21 on July 31. The Marlins righthander is a frontrunner to be the National League's top rookie.
The two share some commonalities.
Gooden was born and raised in Tampa, and Fernandez settled in Tampa five years ago, after he defected from Cuba.
Like Gooden, Fernandez wears No. 16.
Gooden still has family in Tampa, and his nephew actually played high school baseball against Fernandez, who attended Alonso High School.
"As far as off the field, just understand that a lot of people may approach you," Gooden cautions Fernandez. "A lot of them might not have your best interest."
Gooden likes the energy the Miami rookie brings.
"The main thing that sticks out is his mound presence," Gooden said. "He pitches like he's been there a long time. He's not afraid of the hitters. He likes pitching inside. He has a lot of confidence. I don't think he's cocky. Just a lot of confidence. That's what really sticks out."
2013 Player Choice Awards: Jose was named the National League Outstanding Rookie. In Fernandez's first year with the Marlins, he managed to establish himself as one of the brightest young stars on the ball club. The Santa Clara, Cuba product finished with a 12-6 record, a 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts, the highest amongst rookie pitchers.
2013 N.L. Rookie of the Year: Fernandez received 26 of the 30 first place votes by the Baseball Writers' Association of America panel. (Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers received the other four.)
Jose was the fourth Marlins player in 11 years to win, following Chris Coghlan (2009), Hanley Ramirez (2006), and Dontrelle Willis (2003).
Off-season before 2014 spring training: Any worries about Fernandez resting on his laurels were immediately put to rest once the 2013 season ended. He remained on the go. Not so much in terms of baseball activities, but Fernandez ramped up his conditioning by taking to bicycle riding.
We're not talking leisurely trips around the neighborhood. We're talking serious training, complete with top-of-the-line equipment and commitment. Rides of 80-100 miles a day, five or six times a week.
Fernandez is appreciative of the fans and makes himself as available as possible to them. He showed that during the Winter Warm-Up at Marlins Park in February 2014. The players were set to leave the Warm-Up at about 1:00 p.m. ET, but because there was such a long line to see him, Fernandez stuck around until 2:30, taking pictures with the fans.
"We were supposed to leave at 1," Fernandez said. "They were taking pictures, and there was a long line. They were like, 'We've got to go! We've got to go!' I was like, 'I'm not leaving here until this is done.' I took a picture with everybody." (Frisaro - mlb.com - 02/17/14)
- 2014 Opening Day: At 21 years and 274 days old, Fernandez will be the youngest Opening Day starter since Felix Hernandez got the ball in Game 1 for the 2007 Mariners at 20 years and 359 days of age.
- The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services held a special citizenship ceremony on April 23, 2015, in which Fernandez and 140 South Florida residents will become citizens of the United States. Fernandez, a native of Cuba, was a special keynote speaker during the event. (Fordin - mlb.com - 4/22/15)
November 25, 2015: Fernandez stepped up and pitched in to give back to the home community. The right-hander assisted in the organization's annual turkey distribution at Marlins Park. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and offer thanks, and Fernandez -- who has overcome so much personally -- enjoys doing his part to assist others.
"I'm here in Miami. I live here now," Fernandez said. "I'm not too far away. It's something where I can talk to people a little bit and interact, because I enjoy doing this. It's fun."
As an organization, the Marlins have made distributing Thanksgiving meals a tradition. In partnership with "Feeding South Florida," the Marlins donated 1,000 turkeys, fixings and desserts to pre-selected local families in need.
"Every year, we get all the Marlins employees—about 150 employees—who distribute turkeys," Marlins executive vice president of operations and events Claude Delorme said. "For us, it's an annual event. Everyone looks forward to it. It's a great way for all the employees to bond, and to thank people in the community. It's a great event."
Fernandez was doing his part on the West Plaza of the ballpark, handing out turkeys and chatting with the people in line. He posed for pictures, took selfies and signed autographs.
"It means everything," the All-Star pitcher said. "What can I say? Being out here with the families, giving back to the community. Thanksgiving, when you're sitting with your friends and your family around the table, you really appreciate the special moment and the special day," Fernandez said. "To me, it means a lot." (J Frisaro - MLB.com - November 25, 2015)
Jose blew a kiss toward the crowd cheering him behind the Marlins' dugout. Fernandez left the field after the seventh inning like a star actor awash in applause following a pleasing final act, this moment serving as a time when his teenage dream met adult reality on May 26, 2016.
Fernandez watched his first Major League game at Tropicana Field when he was a sophomore at Braulio Alonso High in Tampa, shortly after he arrived in the United States from his native Cuba to chase a better life. Now, here he was enjoying the fruits of his dominance in a 9-1 victory over the Rays, fresh off capping a one-run, six-hit and 12-strikeout clinic on quality pitching.
"This is a place that has a really special place in my heart," Fernandez said. "There's just something about pitching here. It's really special."
As he revisited an emotional victory at a meaningful place for him, Fernandez's maturation was clear. He had lived a dream, and his chase to become the best he can be continues.
"I feel really confident with the work that I put in the offseason," Fernandez said. "I've been finishing so strong, and I'm pacing myself the way I should in the games. It's time for me to learn a little bit how to manage myself on the mound." (Astleford - MLB.com - 5/26/16)
Aledmys Diaz and Jose Fernandez childhood friendship: Though their lives long ago intersected and their careers, in many ways, will forever be intertwined, Aledmys Diaz and Jose Fernandez, with the exception of those impromptu street ball games many years ago, had never before gone toe to toe. That chance came on July 28, 2016, when Fernandez drew his first season start against a Cardinals club that Diaz joined in April. The elder but less-experienced Diaz went on to shine in this matchup, tagging Fernandez for a two-run homer and RBI double that keyed the Cardinals' 5-4 win over the Marlins at Marlins Park.
"That was a lot of fun, trying to compete against my buddy," Diaz said afterward. "He loves competing, and so do I. I just tried to enjoy that moment."
Their relationship dates back to those years on Eighth Street, where Diaz and Fernandez grew up doors apart in the Cuban neighborhood of Santa Clara. Fernandez credits Diaz's father, Rigoberto, and uncle, Nelson, for introducing him to baseball. Their lives diverged after Fernandez defected to the United States as a teenager. Diaz followed four years later, and the two ended up as teammates on the National League All-Star roster this summer. Never before, however, had they been pitted as opponents.
"I had a feeling they were going to both try to bring everything they had," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was pretty special. I don't think we can really understand what it is they had to go through to get here and the stories that they have back home."
Fernandez got the best of Diaz in the first inning, inducing a groundout to help him through a 1-2-3 inning. He was struck, however, by Diaz's aggressive approach.
"First at-bat, he swung first pitch, and I told him, 'Really? You're going to swing first pitch like that?'" Fernandez said. "That swing had a lot of bad intentions on it. I was like, 'This guy wants to hit it 10,000 feet.'"
Diaz maintained that approach in his next two at-bats -- and it worked. He belted a fastball to left-center for a two-run homer in the third and doubled in a run two innings later. Those were two of the five extra-base hits Fernandez allowed over five innings.
"I just try to be aggressive with him because he's a great pitcher," said Diaz, whose parents were in the stands to enjoy his big night. "I know if you get behind in the count, he has a lot of stuff -- a fastball up to 98 [mph], a slider at 81. I tried to be aggressive and take advantage of mistakes."
Outcome aside, the two players had a unique appreciation for the moments they shared on Thursday, moments they never could have imaged as kids playing alongside one another on a sandlot field and on the neighborhood streets.
"I think it's a dream for both of us," Diaz said. "We take a lot of pride in coming here and working at this level. We appreciate the opportunity this country has given us to be able to come here and play in the big leagues."
"It was different to face him," added Fernandez. "I've known him since before I started walking and talking. I'm glad he's doing well, and he's helping his team to win. You can't get mad at that." (Jenifer Langosch - MLB.com - July 2016)
DECEASED: September 25, 2016: Jose, the ace right-hander for the Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball's brightest stars, was killed in boating accident early on a Sunday morning. Fernandez was 24.
The Marlins announced Fernandez's death, and the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that Fernandez was one of three people killed in a boat crash off Miami Beach. In the statement, the Marlins say they are "devastated by the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time."
Chief Petty Officer Nyxolyno Cangemi told The Associated Press that a Coast Guard patrol boat spotted an overturned boat at 3:30 a.m. on a jetty near Government Cut. The bodies were discovered a short time later.
Because the boat was on a jetty, the Coast Guard notified Miami-Dade police, which turned the investigation over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Fernandez was on a 32-foot vessel that had a "severe impact" with a jetty, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Fish Commission. (AP)
Dan Le Batard, ESPN.com, a Cuban native spoke that awful morning: Fernandez took us with him for the emotional ride. And it was such a fun party. A carnival. Watching him work was a pleasure, his joy birthing our joy, contagious and expanding and shared -- hell, yes, multiplying joy -- so mourning felt like the horror of watching the parade route end in a wreck and a funeral.
An uncommon joy has been extinguished. Fernandez had found freedom on one boat, and now his life had ended on another.
This feels so cruel, so wrong, so unfair. It is the worst kind of awful, young life extinguished with thudding finality before it can really be lived, but it is somehow made harder because it was this life.
I'm not talking about his promise or his pitching potential, even though he was on his way to a $200 million contract, and the loss of his baseball value is crippling to the franchise. I'm talking about his personality, his energy, his soul. Fernandez had so much joy and enthusiasm and gratitude and passion pouring from him -- for being in this country, for getting to do what he loved, for squeezing every ounce of fun out of the day -- that it could move even the repressed and the sour. His smile and laugh routinely thawed stoic statues like Giancarlo Stanton. Jesus, even hitting coach Barry Bonds was always kissing him in the damn dugout.
In the history of South Florida sports, only Dontrelle Willis has matched his contagious enthusiasm and charisma. And I say matched it because I know of no human way for his joy at work to be topped. He loved what he did, loved it so hard and so big, loved it so much that he forced you to love it too. Fernandez played the way the best Latin music feels. He acted like a little boy in a sports world soaked with adult problems and cynicism that can make us lose sight of the root verb at the center of what he did for a living. To play. You expected him to throw his glove into the sky at the end of successful innings. And you know what watching him work felt like to South Florida's Cubans? Freedom.
Jose tried to defect from Cuba four times, once saving his drowning mother during an attempted escape, the desperation on that rotting island such that he kept literally throwing his life to the wind to escape it. He was jailed after being caught once but said the first few months of freedom in this country were harder on him than even the incarceration in that one. Such can be the difficulty of the transition for immigrants, exiles and dream-chasers.
He didn't understand how the faucet sensors worked in America's airport bathrooms. He knew so little English that he didn't even know where to put his name on a high school test. He so missed the grandmother who raised him, a grandmother who would later go to the roof of her apartment in Cuba to hear him pitch in the All-Star game on her tinny radio, that he would wander off into the woods to cry for hours at a time. But his golden arm reached across that ocean and got abuela here in an emotional reunion two years ago. He was just beginning to share and live the best parts of his realized American dream. He had his first baby on the way. He worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to the top of this mountain, and he barely had time to enjoy the view.
Thank you, Jose. For sharing your joyful time with us. For telling your story (and our story) with so much color and flair. For making us care in a way that can be hard to see today through our tears. (Dan LaBatard - 9/25/2016) Early morning on September 25th, the dynamic Marlins right-hander died at the age of 24 in a boating accident at the entrance of Miami Harbor.
- Late in October, 2016, the autopsy of Fernandez had a blood-alcohol level of .147, above the level at which a person is presumed to be intoxicated in Florida, as well as cocaine in his system at the time of his death.
The Miami Dade-County Medical Examiner’s Office released its findings following the death of Fernandez and two friends in a late-night boating accident on Sept. 25.
The crash, which also killed Emilio Macias and Eduaro Rivero, occurred on a jetty along the Government Cut section of Miami Beach. It left Fernandez with blunt-force injuries to his head and torso, as well as fractures to his skull and jaw. Both Macias and Rivero had alcohol in their systems, but neither was above the legal limit. Rivero also had cocaine his system.
November 9, 2016: Fernandez was selected as the NL's most Comeback Player for the 2016 Players Choice Award.
- June 2011: The Marlins chose Fernandez as their first round pick in the draft, and 14th player overall, out of Alonso High School in Tampa, Florida. He signed on the August 15 deadline for a bonus of $2 million, via scout Brian Kraft.
- January 15, 2016: The Marlins and Fernandez avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract for $2.8 million.