Fernández was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, in 1992. Fernández’s father left for Tampa when he was 13, and when Fernández was 14, he and his mother attempted to join him. Fernández had an extremely successful ‘career’ in Cuba, so much so that his coach convinced him to leave Cuba before he was drafted by the MLB, something that most Cubans attempt to wait on before leaving. On his first three attempts, he was sailing to Cuba and was caught by the US Coast Guard and sent back all three times. He spent a year in jail for his ‘crimes’, and once released, he decided to attempt one more time.
Fourth Times The Charm
While sailing to Mexico this time, someone fell overboard in the night after a big wave and Fernández jumped in to save them without even knowing who it was. It was his mother. He had saved his mother from drowning and was ready to make it. Once they landed in Mexico, they traveled to the Texas border and were pulled over. He was certain this is it, but the police only stole something out of the truck and let them go. Fernández traveled to Tampa to meet with his father and was ready to begin a new life.
According to Baseball Doesn’t Exist, Fernández did not know a hint of English, and the culture was so much different that he didn’t know how to operate a touchless sink, computer, and littered openly and was scolded which is apparently common in Cuba. He begged to go back, but he pulled through during High School and was drafted by the Marlins in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft. He received a $2 million dollar signing bonus and reached the majors two years later.
Fernández came upon an extremely prominent baseball team, full of other young stars such as Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto. Fernández only got to play a short four years in the majors, but he had one of the largest impacts ever. He finished with a career 2.58 ERA, and had been an all-star twice, and won the Rookie of the Year award. Fernández began a new era of baseball, showing excitement and energy on the field. He would scream “sit down” in Spanish when striking batters out, and showed extreme emotion on the field. He would cause some fights and yell, even in his own dugout, but he started a whole era of baseball players showing their emotion. From there on out, more and more players continue to yell in excitement, bat flip and show lots of emotion on the field.
Fernández’s career came up way too short, passing away in a boating accident in 2016. Two others passed along with him on that day, and the family members sued his estate. Fernández passed from trauma, as the boat was found upside down, not from drowning. Speed was believed to be a factor in the collision with a jetty. Initially, no alcohol or drug use was believed to be involved. The next game the Marlins played, his number was painted on the outfield and every player wore his jersey to pay tribute. The first batter, Dee Gordon, came up and took the first pitch in Fernández’s batting stance. He then hit a home run- the ninth of his career- right over the painted number. Many players, including manager Don Mattingly, broke down at some point during the game. It was one of the most emotional baseball games to ever be played. The Marlins promised to retire his number, build a statue and preserve his locker in tribute. However, these plans quickly changed.
Fernández’s autopsy revealed he was under the influence of cocaine on the night of the accident. This revelation means that if Fernández would have survived, he would have been criminally charged with the death of the other two passengers on the boat, as he was under the influence and was speeding. The Marlins decided to cancel the tribute plans after this revelation and decided a plaque outside of the stadium was a proper way to remember someone who would have been criminally charged. His locker is being used by somebody else today, and his number is not officially retired, but no one has used the number since the accident. The city of Miami and the Marlins baseball club continue to mourn the loss of an up-and-coming player despite the controversy.
(Featured Image from USA Today, Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4, Source 5, Source 6)