Ultimate Tragedy for Marlins’ Fernandez, Dead at 24

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this gloomy Sunday, Sept. 25, when this column would have a black border if I knew a way to put one here.

In the world of great celebrities, each branch has its tragedies. Rock music has Buddy Holly, Richie Valenz and the Big Bopper plus many others.  country has Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Johnny Horton  and many others.  The movie business has James Dean.  Today, baseball adds Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez to names like Thurman Munson, Darryl Kile, Steve Olin   and  Tim Crews,   players who met death  while in the greatest season of their lives. Munson was 32 when he crashed his plane near the Canton airport. Kile was also 32 when a heart attack claimed his life.   Fernandez, only 24 died in a boating accident early this morning. Initially he would have pitched today but his start was moved back so he might face the playoff-chasing Mets. No column has been as difficult to write as this one is proving to be.  Obviously no player could have played a game today with a whole heart, so the game between the Marlins and Braves has been cancelled.

Fernandez had a 38-17 lifetime mark and 16 wins this season making him clearly the Marlins’ ace.  He had pitched better than any man in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.  He had struck out 253 men during the 2016 season, a Marlins’ record. He was born in Cuba and failed on 3 tries to defect, but unlike baseball where you’re out after 3 strikes, he succeeded in reaching America’s  safe haven on his fourth try. His last start may have been his best, as he struck out a dozen men in  8 innings of a 1-0 win over the pennant-bound Nationals. He had been an All-Star twice and was the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year. He was 17–0 and then 24–1 in his first 25 home decisions.

Fernandez’ tragic demise will resound throughout the baseball world. In the last two decades many players have fled Castro’s Cuba to play in the majors, starting with Livan Hernandez who made it with the Marlins.    Every Cuban player who prays (and that’s most of them) will say a prayer for his soul. I doubt anybody will be any more devastated than Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz.  The two were boyhood chums and youth baseball teammates in Cuba. Not two months ago, on July 28 Diaz faced his old buddy Fernandez for the first time and launched a home run off him. Both were All-Stars this summer. I am sorry to say that neither of the two Miami sports radio stations is talking much about the death of the Marlins’ ace in the hours immediately following the tragedy.   Both are talking football.  The Dolphins have a home game today where a minute of silence will be observed.

The only hard news I can find at this writing is that Fernandez  and two others lost their lives near Government Cut off Miami Beach. The names of the other two dead are not available pending notification of next of kin.    The bodies and their capsized boat were discovered at 3:30 AM this morning by a Coast Guard patrol boat. The stricken boat was a 32-foot long vessel which had a severe impact with a jetty.  The Marlins are holding  a press conference which the local station WINZ is trying to broadcast live.

Here is a personal tribute to Fernandez supplied by correspondent Mark Cooper, writing from Hawaii:

“I don’t even know what to say…I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and the first thing I see is news of Jose Fernandez’ death. As a baseball fan, I attended many of his starts. Only 24, he was electrifying on the mound. As an autograph collector, I had many run-ins with him. He was VERY careful with giving out his autograph. I asked him multiple times to sign his name and it got to where he recognized me. With Jose, that was never a good thing.

Three years ago, I was in Miami for a Sunday game. Jose was rehabbing his shoulder after coming down with Tommy John a few months prior. He had spearheaded a promotion where he would invite some of the underprivileged kids in the area to attend the game for free (they’d sit in a section of the stadium called “Jose’s Heroes”).

I had, of course, arrived early to get autographs. At Marlins Park, players would walk from the 3-level parking deck across the street into the stadium. Those who wanted to sign would stop on their way in. Jose, for some reason, was the only one who needed to be accompanied by a security guard. I think he thought it made him look like a big shot. Well, this day he was asked again if he would stop to sign. I had stopped asking him because I knew his habits (he was one of the tougher autographs on the team).

A little boy asked and Jose replied that he couldn’t because he was late. I thought to myself, “Late to what?” Jose was rehabbing and wouldn’t even be playing in the game so, in essence, he wasn’t really late to anything. Of course, I opened my big mouth and actually yelled it. “Late to what?” Of course, Jose heard me so he turned around and said, “Who said that?” None of the other fans said anything but it was quickly obvious that I was the one.

Jose, who NEVER signs pregame, came over to the crowd that was waiting and signed for absolutely everyone. Sweet-spotting baseballs, which he hates to do, changing pens, which he also hates to do, the entire time looking at me and laughing.

I thought that I had ruined my chances of ever getting Jose’s autograph again. But that next year, during a preseason event called FanFest, I saw him signing behind the dugout and walked up to him and apologized. “Nah, we’re good bro,” Jose said to me. He signed another autograph for me and then shook my hand.

RIP Mr. Fernandez. You’ll be missed”

           UPDATE: The following is being written at 8:45 PM Eastern, an hour after it was released by WPLG-TV channel 10 in Miami.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins José Fernández, who left Cuba to become one of Major League Baseball’s brightest stars, died
in a boat collision Sunday morning off Miami Beach. He was 24.

Fernández, an avid boater, was one of three who died when a 32-foot SeaVee center console boat overturned after an impact with a jetty near the harbor
entrance Government Cut, authorities said.

The other two victims were Fernández’s friends Eddy Rivero and Emilio Macias.

The U.S. Coast Guard was the first to find the boat. Debris from the crash was scattered. They notified Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission and other authorities about 3:40 a.m. Police officers were also involved.

“It does appear that speed was involved due to the impact and the severity of it,” FWC spokesman Lorenzo Veloz said. “It does appear to be that they were
coming at full speed when they encountered the jetty, and the accident happened.”

Emergency crews — including helicopters and divers — searched for bodies. Fernández and two of his friends were the only three they found by 4 a.m.

Two were under the boat and one was ejected and was on the jetty. Authorities said the three didn’t have their life vests on. Fernández did not own the

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue recovered the bodies and took them to the U.S. Coast Guard station. The bodies were at the Medical Examiner’s office. Fernández
died of trauma and not drowning, Veloz said.

There was no indication that alcohol or illegal drugs were involved, authorities said. Crews overturned the boat and took it off the jetty to tow it to
the station in Yacht Club. It was a total loss.

The FWC is the lead agency in the investigation.


Other than paying tribute to Fernandez, the rest of this column will only contain sketches of some of today’s games. The Yankees have been shut out during 3 consecutive games for the first time since 1975.  The last team to be shut out 4 games in a row was the 1992 Cubs. Today they have to face Marco Estrada of the Jays while they run out michael Pineda. Estrada is on a roll, considering he gave up no hits into the 7th inning last time out. The Royals ended the Tigers’ winning streak  yesterday as the homestanding Tigers try for an unlikely wild card spot. The Mets lost last night, hampering their chances.  They turn to Robert Gsellman, who with Seth Lugo are the no-name starters who have kept the Mets afloat. The Orioles and D-Backs meet in Baltimore with the home team continuing to struggle to reach the postseason. The Giants won in 10 i n spite of blowing a 6-0 lead last night keeping the NL race as crowded as ever. The Dodgers turn to Brandon McCarthy as they try to clinch the western division.  He’s been on the shelf for a month with hip stiffness. John Lester, an 18-game winner for the Cubs takes the hill in the ESPN Sunday night game against the Cards. The Nationals have won the Easterhn division for the third time in 5 years.


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