Jose Fernandez was a generational talent and exemplary man. His impressive, yet tragically short life serves as inspiration not only to those who aspire to be successful athletes but to those who live under the oppression of a communist society. Jose Fernandez’s life is a story of resilience, hard work, and passion that should be admired by us all; not only as sports fans, but as human beings.
Following a pair of unsuccessful attempts to defect from Cuba and several trips to prison as a result, Fernandez successfully defected from Cuba and settled in Tampa, Florida where he would attend Braulio Alonso High School. Jose Fernandez was nothing short of dominant in high school, winning two state championships. In his senior season, Jose boasted a 13-1 record with two no-hitters. As one would expect, Jose’s high school dominance garnered the attention of many professional scouts. Perfect Game USA scout director David Rawnsley remarked that in his 27 years of scouting, Jose Fernandez was the most impressive high school pitcher that he had ever seen.
Rawnsley was far from the last person Fernandez would leave in awe with his incredible pitching ability. Jose impressed the Marlins enough for them to take him with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft and ink him to a $2 million dollar signing bonus. Fernandez would be assigned to the Jupiter Hammerheads, of the Class A-Advanced Florida State League. Jose hit the ground running in 2012, his first professional season, sporting a 14-1 record with a minuscule 1.75 ERA, good enough to win him the Minor League Pitcher of the Year. This was just the tip of the iceberg for Jose Fernandez.
Fernandez burst onto the scene for the Miami Marlins in 2013 and didn't skip a beat. In his major league debut, Jose struck out eight Mets over five frames, only surrendering one run. Jose wouldn't stop there, later being selected to represent the Marlins in the 2013 all-star game where he pitched a perfect 6th inning for the National League. Jose continued to dominate hitters in 2013 and achieved the honor of becoming the Marlins’ 4th Rookie of The Year winner. The 2014 season started off much like Jose’s 2013 campaign, dominant. However, eight starts into the 2014 season Fernandez struggled with elbow discomfort and later found out that he had torn his UCL, which would require Tommy John surgery.
The bleak outlook of a 12-18 month recovery would discourage most people, but Jose Fernandez was not most people. Fernandez worked tirelessly to get back on the field, rehabbing his arm and running miles every day. Jose’s unwavering dedication made for an on-schedule return and took the field for the first time in a full year on July 2nd 2015. Some worried that Fernandez may have never been the same when he returned from his surgery but Jose quickly put an end to that notion. He showed few signs of rust as Jose won his first four decisions following his return from the disabled list.
Fernandez would finish 2015 with a 6-1 record and a dazzling 2.92 ERA. Ultimately, 2016 may have been Jose Fernandez’s most impressive campaign. Jose was named an All-Star for the second time in four seasons and was averaging a jaw dropping thirteen strikeouts per nine innings. Following his most recent eight shutout-inning performance that saw him strike out 13 Nationals, Jose catapulted himself into second in the league in strikeouts, trailing only Max Scherzer. Jose’s latest display of excellence may have been one of his best; in fact, Jose said himself that it was the best start of his career. Unfortunately, it would end up being his last.
Jose Fernandez was perhaps baseball's most exciting young star to watch. TV ratings were up roughly 20 percent on games that he started and Marlins Park saw a nearly 10,000 more fans a game on "Jose Day." Though tragically cut short, Jose Fernandez’s life embodied the American Dream. From his defection from Cuba following two unsuccessful attempts, to being locked in Cuban prison and to overcoming Tommy John surgery, Fernandez was a model of resiliency.
Through handwork, dedication, and pure passion for the game of baseball, Jose was able to ascend to superstardom. Jose Fernandez deserves to be remembered as a man who earned everything that he achieved, including his freedom. As Jose once said to David Samson, "You don’t really understand what freedom is because you were born into it."