World mourns the loss of Jose Fernandez

A memorial for Jose Fernandez takes shape at Marlins Park in Miami after the game against the Atlanta Braves was cancelled when Fernandez died in a boating accident, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Maimi Beach. (Joe Caveretta/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Brandon Sans, Staff Writer

Tragedy shook the baseball world early Sunday morning when it was reported Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez had passed away at age 24.

Fernandez and two others, Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, took a boat out into the Gulf of Mexico late Saturday night. The 32-foot fishing boat struck a jetty net in the early hours of Sunday morning, flipping it and killing all those aboard.

“There’s no words to describe how this organization feels,” said Miami Marlins President David Samson. “Jose was someone who we’ve known since he was a drafted young man, and I think when you talk about a tragedy like this, there are no words that come to mind. There’s no playbook, there’s no words of consolation.

“There’s prayer and there’s thought toward his family, toward his soon-to-be-born daughter, and you recognize how precious life is and how taking things for granted is a fool’s game.”

Fernandez’s death leaves a gaping hole throughout many communities he was part of in life. At a press conference Sunday, each of Fernandez’s teammates, along with Marlins personnel, were visibly shaken as they spoke of their fallen teammate.

“This is difficult for me and everybody,” said Marlins third baseman Martin Prado. “When I came to the Marlins last year, I knew one of the main things about the Marlins was Jose.”

Fernandez’s story was one of constant perseverance in the face of improbable odds that were unimaginable to many.

“His story is representative of a story of hope and love and faith, and no one will ever let that story die,” said Samson.

Born into an oppressive government in Cuba, Fernandez attempted to defect three times despite being repeatedly captured by the United States Coast Guard. He was returned to Cuba where he was imprisoned for “Being a traitor to Fidel Castro.”

He successfully defected to Mexico in 2008. That journey was not without its perils, as the ocean’s waves knocked a passenger overboard.

Fernandez, at 15 years old, decided he was best fit to save the person who fell overboard. To his surprise, it was his mother who had fallen into the water.

“I have always been a good swimmer, since I was a kid, which is why I am always alert,” Fernandez told the Miami Herald in 2013. “I dove to help a person not thinking who that person was. Imagine when I realized it was my own mother. If that does not leave a mark on you for the rest of your life, I don’t know what will.”

Once Fernandez was safely away from the Cuban government he, along with his mother, settled into Tampa, Florida. He enrolled in Braulio Alonso High School where he led the Ravens to Florida Class 6A state championships in his sophomore and senior seasons.

His success led to the Marlins selecting him with the 14th overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft directly out of high school. He breezed through Miami’s farm system and was rated as the fifth best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, in 2013.

Following a controversial fire sale in the previous offseason by owner Jeffery Loria and injuries to the Miami’s starting pitching depth, Fernandez was tabbed the number five starter despite being optioned to the minors during Spring Training.

At age 20, Fernandez pitched to a 2.19 ERA across 172.2 innings and 187 strikeouts – numbers that can seldom be replicated in video games, let alone real life.

For his efforts Fernandez was named to the National League All-Star team, awarded Rookie of the Year, and finished third in voting for the NL’s Cy Young award.

Tommy John surgery kept Fernandez out for parts of the next two years and threatened the long-term future of baseball’s most promising young hurler. He picked up right were he left off in 2016, asserting himself as baseball’s top young pitcher in the eyes of many.

Though he leaves baseball with a 2.58 career ERA and a rate of 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings (589 in total), it was his smile and personality that set him apart.

“He had a personality that was very rare in sports,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “Getting to see it over the years, it was a personality you got drawn to. He was always smiling and always having fun. He loved playing the game of baseball. Every time he got on that mound, he brought the best out of you. It’s not only a loss for baseball, but this whole country really, Cuba and everything. It’s a very sad day.”

That personality left many numb after hearing about his passing, including students at UNC Wilmington.

“Baseball lost not only a great young pitcher but also a symbol for a whole community,” said freshman Nick Coutros. “He was inspiration for many young people in Miami as well as in Cuba. He was lively on and off the field.”

Fernandez was scheduled to pitch Sunday, but Marlins manager Don Mattingly pushed his start to Monday in order to line him up for the final game of the season.

Major League Baseball proceeded to cancel the game between the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves out of respect for Fernandez and to allow the sports world an opportunity to grieve. The game will not be rescheduled.