A lot has happened in the past year, and José Fernandez’s death still looms over the City of Miami and South Florida.
Today marks one year since South Florida, Major League Baseball, and the entire sports community was shocked by the hearing of the passing of Miami Marlins ace-pitcher, José Fernandez.
Born an hour outside Havana, Cuba, Fernandez fled the communist nation as a teenager, after a handful of attempts. Upon his successful voyage to the US, he would settle in Tampa, Florida. There, he became a high school phenom.
José was drafted 14th overall by the Florida Marlins in the 2011 MLB Draft. The Marlins would soon be moving to their new ballpark in Little Havana, a highly Cuban-populated neighborhood in Miami, a neighborhood that would embrace Fernandez, as he was living their dream. The dream to leave Cuba, make it to the US, and become a star.
He would make his debut for the Marlins in 2013, and instantly became a fan favorite. In his rookie season, he would go 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, make the All-Star Game, and win the NL Rookie of the Year. Things looked bright in Miami.
José did something only a few athletes in Miami have been able to do: bring fans to a sporting event. The Dolphins always have good crowds, but the Heat began selling out with The Decision in 2010, and still to do, even after the fall of The Big Three. The only other Marlin who was able to do this was Dontrelle Willis back in 2003, who also won the NL Rookie of the Year that season. The Marlins made sure fans knew he was pitching, using #JoséDay all over social media, attracting fans to the ballpark.
José would continue his success in Miami, especially in Little Havana. José’s home record was 12-2, with a 1.63 ERA. That amazing stat line came in front of the community that meant so much to him, and that he meant so much to.
When José passed away a year ago, baseball did not feel the same in Miami. It didn’t want to be thought about, but José’s death loomed over the team during the final week of the season, and it was noticeable.
But, the most memorable thing about the death of José was what happened afterwards. The Marlins canceled their game the day José passed, but were obligated to play their remaining few games. As the Marlins host the Mets in their first game since Fernandez’s death, it was emotional to start the game, with a bugle playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. As the Marlins come up in the bottom of the 1st, Dee Gordon wears José’s batting helmet, and takes José’s stance, on (José’s) right side of the plate. After the first pitch, Gordon switches to his typical left side of the plate. The next pitch he sees, he takes it yard to right field. Dee Gordon rarely hits home runs, and seeing him hit one in that situation stills sends goosebumps down my arm.
The Marlins have tried to memorialize José every way possible, from a 16 patch over their hearts on their jerseys, to a make-shift memorial on the west side of the stadium, to retiring his number 16, to Jeffery Loria aannouncing plans for a José statue (which might be in question, with Loria now selling the team).
Even though his death, and how he should be remembered his highly questionable, it doesn’t mean that it is tragic, and we can’t be sad for his loss. One thing is for sure: South Florida misses you Niño, and we hope you’re doing all right.