We’re departing from our normal policy of not commenting on professional sports to pay tribute to Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández, who tragically passed on Sunday morning in a boating accident. He was 24. All three of us have watched Fernández repeatedly over the last four seasons as fans of National League teams, and his death is a tragedy for Cuban-Americans, Miami residents, and baseball fans across the nation. Here are our favorite memories of José.
Michael Sullivan: This summer, my father and I took a trip to Cooperstown to see Mike Piazza’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. We initially planned to go up by RV, but the big rig broke down before we even got on the Whitestone Bridge. Instead, at the last second, we booked a hotel in Binghamton, two hours away from baseball’s Mecca. The ceremony was Sunday, but we went up on Saturday. While passing cows I-88, I wanted to turn on the Mets-Marlins game. My dad was all tuckered out from America’s pastime for the day, turning to me to ask what the pitching matchup was. I told him Jacob deGrom and José Fernández. He asked where the game was, and I said Marlins Park. He then asked what was the point? Even as a fledgling baseball fan, my dad knew Fernández’s numbers in Miami: 29-2, 1.49 ERA. Of course, those numbers are as of this writing, but the point remains: resistance was futile against Fernandez at home. Still, I foolishly subscribe to Tug McGraw’s “Ya Gotta Believe” rants that he selfishly forced Mets fans to believe. The radio was fuzzy up in the Catskills, but we could barely make out Howie Rose and Josh Lewin’s calls. Well, my dad was ultimately correct. Fernández tossed seven innings of two-run ball, striking out seven, and the Mets lost 7-2. It wasn’t Fernández’s best outing—not at Marlins Park nor even against the Mets. But it exemplified the dominance he could bring out at any time. Though I was listening on the radio, I’m sure he was smiling the whole time.
Riley Overend: As electric as Fernández was on the bump, my favorite memory of the Cuban-American came when he was in the dugout during his rookie season in 2013. Giancarlo Stanton stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the Marlins trailing 1-0 and needing some late-game magic. Stanton launched a high fastball deep over the left-center wall and sent the crowd into a frenzy. But no one was more excited than Fernández—as soon as he saw Stanton’s moonshot, he pounded on the dugout railing like Donkey Kong and celebrated as if he had just scored the game-winning goal for his country in the World Cup. It was as animated as I’ve ever seen someone on a baseball diamond, but it was par for the course for Fernández. Pure joy. He lived and competed with an infectious fire, a passion for the game that was uniquely magnetic because it was so childlike, organic, and genuine.
Annabel Steele: When I woke up this morning and saw the news about Fernández, I was in shock. How can someone so full of life be dead? He was an absolute stud—a phenomenal pitcher and person. My favorite player Bryce Harper’s motto is “Make Baseball Fun Again.” Fernández did just that. He was a breath of fresh air, beloved around the league, and that is very evident from the tributes pouring in across the country. If you happened to check Twitter, odds are you saw someone mention one very memorable play from Fernández. Back in 2013, he was a rookie making a name for himself and tearing up the league (he would go on to win the National League Rookie of the Year). Troy Tulowitzki, then the shortstop for the Rockies, hit a hard line drive toward Fernández. The pitcher stretched his glove out and snagged the ball. Tulowitzki stopped abruptly and stared at Fernández. “Did you catch that?” he asked incredulously. “Yes, yes I did,” Fernández replied, chuckling. Tulowitzki stood in place for a moment, totally stunned, as Fernández returned to the mound. That was Fernández in a nutshell—ridiculously talented and always keeping the mood light. He was a fantastic competitor and a good person, and he will be missed.
Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor