The Icon that Was Jose Fernandez

The baseball community was devastated last week after the sudden death of Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, but to say that just the baseball community was devastated would be a major understatement. All the posts and tweets about Fernandez coming from outside the baseball world makes it clear that his death was felt by more than just those who play baseball.

Tweets from celebrities like Lil Wayne, a moment of silence from the Miami Dolphins, and memorial stickers on University of Miami football players helmets all prove that Fernandez’s death was bigger than baseball.

The events that followed his death seemed to add to the icon that was Jose Fernandez as well. It was like the hand of God was touching those who were closest to him. Dee Gordon’s home run, along with Aledmys Dias’ grand slam are stories that will be told for years down the road. Gordon even stated after the game, “I told the boys, if y’all don’t believe in God y’all might as well start. I ain't ever hit a ball that far, even in BP. We had some help.”

With these heartfelt posts from those outside of baseball, along with the supernatural events that followed his death it is clear that Fernandez’s will be someone who will not soon be forgotten. He was an icon, and his life will forever be remembered.

But why is this? What made Fernandez so different from other players? Yes, he was on the way to being one of the greatest pitchers of our generation if not ever, but there’s more to his story.

Fernandez was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. In 2005 Jose’s father defected to Florida,  and after three failed attempts, Jose finally defected to Florida three years later in 2008. The story goes that during the final attempt to defect, Jose’s mother fell off the boat, and he jumped in to save her. Stories like these made Fernandez have a near superhero quality to his life.

After a dominating career in highschool Fernandez was drafted in 2011 to the Florida Marlins and was called up to the majors in 2013—he never looked back. Year after year, Jose put up dominating numbers. For example, in his short four-year career he had 76 total wins, a 2.58 ERA, and 589 strikeouts, which benefited from a 96 MPH fastball. It was clear that Fernandez was on the way to being one of the best pitchers of our time.

Even then great stats aren’t what made Fernandes such an icon, there was a personality to this story.

Being a superstar in baseball is one thing, but Fernandez was more than just a baseball superstar. There are two qualities of Fernandez that made him the icon that he was. The first is the adversity that he pushed through.

Fernandez failed to defect to the US three times, and after each failed attempt he went to jail. Once he finally made it to the US, he had trouble being eligible to play high school baseball. The Florida High School Athletic Association ruled that he was ineligible to play his senior year, but after a successful appeal he was able to continue to pursue the game he loved.

Finally, Fernandez overcame adversity during his professional career. He underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2014 season, but bounced back from that as well.

Getting through adversity is a quality that many young people growing up can look at and admire, but that was not the only quality that made Fernandez so special. The other quality about Fernandez is passion for what he loved, and that was baseball. Current Covenant College catcher Alex Kerr can attest to the passion Fernandez had for the game of baseball. Kerr played against Fernandez in high school. He explained, “Everything the media is saying about how passionate, and excited he was about the game of baseball is true. He always had a smile on his face whenever he was on the field.”

These qualities are just some that make Fernandez the icon that he was. Not only will Fernandez go down as one of the greatest pitchers to have ever lived, but he will also be remembered as an important figure in sports history. His story will be one that young Americans, especially young Cuban Americans, will be able to look up to for years to come.