Home / Sports / Gone too soon, Jose Fernandez leaves a lasting legacy on and off the field – ESPN
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Gone too soon, Jose Fernandez leaves a lasting legacy on and off the field – ESPN

Le Batard overwhelmed by news of Fernandez’s death (1:48)

Dan Le Batard reacts to the news that Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez has died in a boating accident. (1:48)

As the sports world struggled to come to grips with the news of Jose Fernandez‘s death on Sunday, the outpouring of emotion from fans and peers was a tribute to the pitcher’s charismatic personality as much as his talent on the mound. Fernandez packed a lifetime of living into 24 years, 1 month and 25 days.

Fernandez’s star status with the Miami Marlins was reflected in a range of dominant statistical achievements and awards. Over parts of four seasons, he posted a 38-17 record with a 2.58 ERA, averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, won a National League Rookie of the Year award and made two All-Star teams. He overcame Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2014 to resume laying the groundwork for what many expected to be a Hall of Fame career.

Beyond the numbers and the 95 mph radar gun readings, Fernandez exuded a joy for baseball and a passion for living that stemmed from a difficult upbringing. As a Cuban émigré who overcame numerous obstacles to reach a new world, he embraced each competitive challenge that awaited him.

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Fernandez was born on July 31, 1992, in Santa Clara, the capital city of the Cuban province of Villa Clara. He was a childhood neighbor and friend of future St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz, and he has credited Diaz’s father and uncle with introducing him to baseball.

Fernandez’s stepfather, Ramon Jimenez, was a doctor in Cuba who defected to Tampa in 2005. Jose, his mother, Maritza, and sister, Yadenis, made three unsuccessful forays via speedboat to follow Ramon to the United States. The third failed attempt landed Jose in jail, and he was expelled from the state-run boarding school for elite athletes that he’d been attending.

On the fourth try, Jose dove into the Gulf of Mexico to save his mother from drowning before the family found safe haven in Mexico. After a pit stop in Hidalgo, Texas, mother, son and daughter finally settled in Florida.

In a 2009 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Fernandez described the family’s harrowing journey to the U.S. At age 15, he confronted 8-foot-high waves to reach his mother and swam 30 yards back to the boat to save her life.

“I thought I was going to die many times,” Fernandez told the newspaper.

The difficult path Jose Fernandez traveled just to make it to the majors taught him never to pitch with fear — no matter who was standing in the batter’s box. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Fernandez pitched for two state championship teams at Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, and the Marlins signed him to a $ 2 million bonus as the 14th overall selection in the 2011 first-year player draft. Fernandez logged a mere 27 starts and 138 1/3 innings in the minor leagues before shoulder injuries to Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi landed him a spot in Miami’s rotation out of spring training of 2013. Fernandez was sufficiently caught off guard by the news that he had to visit a local mall and buy three suits in adherence to the team’s dress code.

From his first big league appearance, Fernandez pitched with a fearlessness and swagger beyond his years. Before striking out eight batters in five innings in his big league debut against the New York Mets on April 7, 2013, he told Marlins beat writers that the only things he feared were roller coasters and snakes.

“I’ve been in jail. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been in the water,” Fernandez said. “I’m not scared to face David Wright. What can he do?”

As Fernandez burnished his on-the-field achievements, his off-the-field life continued to evolve. In 2014 he was reunited with his grandmother, Olga, whom he referred to as “the love of my life.” The following April, Olga watched him pitch in the major leagues for the first time as part of a family celebration.

Fernandez became a U.S. citizen on April 24, 2015, and he recently posted a photo on his Instagram account of his girlfriend, Carla Mendoza, confirming that she was expecting the couple’s first child, a girl.

Fernandez’s success was a great source of pride to the Latino community in South Florida, and his appearances were heralded as “Jose Day.” The party atmosphere usually ended with a celebration. Fernandez sported a career record of 29-2 with a 1.42 ERA at Marlins Park, and he clearly fed off the love and support of the local crowds.

On Sunday, the Marlins canceled their scheduled game with Atlanta, which would have marked Fernandez’s final home start of 2016. Meanwhile, news of Fernandez’s death elicited expressions of shock and sympathy from his fellow major leaguers on social media. Among the more poignant responses:

The expressions of grief continued throughout the day, as the baseball world struggled to accept the inconceivable: Jose Fernandez, a vibrant young star on the road to greatness, gone much too soon at age 24.


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