Imagine arriving in the United States as a teenager without a grasp of the English language. Then just a few years later, you’re pitching at the highest level of baseball in the world. To call the rise of Jose Fernández meteoric would be apropos. As it relates to the community of Latinos and sports fans in South Florida, calling his untimely passing cataclysmic would be an understatement.
On Sunday morning, I opened my eyes to look for alerts on my phone. I do this every morning when I wake. These days, alerts of shootings and rioting usually litter my lock screen. The occasional sports injury will pop up as well. Instead, I actually lost my breath for a moment as I read this alert:
I’ve always been relatively pragmatic when it comes to death. I rarely shed a tear at wakes or funerals. My sadness has always been reserved not for the death of a friend or loved one but for the sadness and grief I see their friends and relatives experiencing.
As I write this, my heartache is for the Fernández family along with his friends and teammates. For his girlfriend Carla Mendoza carrying what would have been the first child for Fernández. But it aches for so many more. Sports fans in Miami that had looked forward to starts at home by Fernández as if they were holidays. Baseball fans all across this country that enjoyed not only the ability but the infectious personality of one of the games next great stars.
The game of baseball has very few characters that are of the “must-see” variety these days. The NBA has the LeBron James and Stephen Currys of the world. Hockey has an Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. Football has it’s myriad of stars that keep stadiums full and eyeballs on televisions. For baseball, Fernández was one of those guys. Thirty-plus times per season you could be assured that more eyeballs were on televisions in Miami. If the games were played at Marlins Park, a bump in attendance could also be expected. It takes a lot to move the needle. Jose Fernández was that needle mover.
Just a few days ago, the headlines regarding Fernández read something like this: “Should the Marlins trade Jose Fernández rather than losing him in free agency.”
I get it… Sports is a business. Players are often viewed as commodities the same way you’d think of the stock market. But a story like this one reminds you of the human element involved in sports. The game isn’t played by robots. Its played by people. And while those people may have an extraordinary ability to do something with a baseball, basketball, football or on skates with a puck, they have stories that go along with that talent. A journey. They didn’t just fall out of the sky and onto a field or court.
The story of Jose Fernández has been pretty well-chronicled. Now, it will be re-told again and again. How the 24 year-old came to this country on a boat in hope of a better life. While on that treacherous journey that has claimed so many lives, somebody fell off the boat that was carrying Fernández to South Florida. Without thinking, the then 15 year-old jumped into the choppy waters to save a woman that would have almost certainly died without his courageous efforts. What Fernández didn’t know was that the woman whose life he saved was his mother. While people will talk about the strikeouts and statistics he compiled in an all-too-short career, it’s that story of heroism that sticks with me as I look back on this young mans life.
It is the most tragic of ironies that Jose Fernández enjoyed his greatest pleasures in life because of an escape to this country on a boat and lost his life in those same waters that helped he and his family flee political persecution. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that two friends of Fernández lost their lives in this accident as well. Early indications are that speed was a factor in the crash.
In the days to come, details will emerge on the how and why with regard to the accident that took the life of one baseballs brightest future stars. But the story of Jose Fernández is an example of why we all need to be reminded of the importance of living in the now.
Jason Page is a sports/talk radio host. He also hosts The Intersection Podcast with Jason Page. Available on iTunes and Google Play.