One of the best young pitchers in baseball has died in a boating accident. Jose Fernandez, a pitcher for the Miami Marlins who escaped from Cuba when he was 15, was killed when the speedboat he was riding in hit an unlit jetty early this morning and flipped over.
In addition to Fernandez, the accident claimed two other lives. The other victims have yet to be identified.
Fernandez’s story is remarkable. He tried to escape from Cuba several times, actually ending up in jail at one point. How he eventually evaded the authorities and made it to the U.S. is the stuff of legend.
Growing up in Cuba, Fernandez was jailed after failing on one of several attempts to flee the nation. When he finally managed to defect successfully, it was only after he escaped gunfire and jumped into the Gulf of Mexico to rescue his mother after their boat capsized. They crossed the border from Mexico, stepping foot in Texas, on April 5, 2008. He was 15.
“I’ve been in jail. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been in the water,” Fernandez told the Miami Herald in 2013. “I’m not scared to face [New York Mets slugger] David Wright. What can he do?”
Fernandez had a meteoric rise to the major leagues, being promoted from the low minor leagues to the majors when he was just 20 years old. He had what baseball aficionados refer to as “Nintendo stuff” — a mix of four devastating pitches that hopped, slurved, and sank better than anything in the National League. His stats are eye-popping. He lost only 2 of his first 42 home starts. His career earned run average after 78 games was a stingy 2.58 runs every 9 innings. He struck out 589 batters in just 471 innings.
We will always have Fernandez’s remarkable numbers to remind us of what he had already accomplished in a career that would last a mere 76 trips to a big league mound. But how do we measure what it is we’ve lost, what the Miami Marlins have lost, what the sport of baseball has lost?
Where was this man heading in life? Where was he heading in baseball? It’s like asking, “How high is the sky?” Because for Jose Fernandez, life had no limits. Every day, he looked at the world and thought, “Why not?” Ask anyone who ever spent five minutes around him. They would be the first to tell you there were four words in the dictionary he could never accept:
That. Can’t. Be. Done.
So of course he made it out of Cuba, no matter how many attempts it took. Of course he jumped straight from the Florida State League to the big leagues at 20 years old. Of course he made it back from Tommy John surgery in just 13 months and looked as if he’d never missed a start. Of course he would make 42 starts at home in his career and lose only two of them.
This was the essence of Jose Fernandez. He approached every day thinking only of what he could do, what he would do. His world was filled only with possibilities. So on this day, the cloud above us is darkened by all those painful thoughts of what might have been. And it’s going to take a very long time to stop asking ourselves that question: What might he have been had he lived the rich, full life he deserved?
The entire sport of baseball paused on Sunday to remember this “irrepressible” young man. The Miami Marlins’ game today against the Atlanta Braves was canceled in his honor.