The Death of Joy: José Fernández



National League pitcher Jose Fernandez, of the Miami Marlins, tosses the ball during the second inning of the MLB baseball All-Star Game, Tuesday, July 12, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Sean Kingsepp

Many young boys in any country aspire to be extraordinary athletes who become folk heroes or even legends. Growing up in Cúba, José Fernández wanted to play a game he loved for as long as he could. He would play on the same youth team that neighborhood friend, and future major leaguer, Aledmys Diaz did. With the help of Diaz’s father and uncle, José would foster his love for the game, and the joy that would later become his most well-known feature.

José’s baseball journey began with many hardships. In order to leave Cúba and fight for his dream to play professional baseball, José tried to escape the island three separate times, failing all three times, and would subsequently be thrown in jail each time. He was undeterred as he would try, and succeed, another time with his mother. That final trip did not come without its own drama as he had to rescue his drowning mother after she had fallen out of the boat. Despite all of the adversity, José and his mother made it to Mexicó, then moved to Tampa, Florida, where José would begin his life in the United States.

Since beginning his professional baseball career, Fernández was known not only for his electric pitching, but also his fiery personality. His love for the game was infectious and would impact everyone he played with even in the minor leagues. With extreme talent, José sped throughout the minor leagues and would make his major league debut on April 7, 2013, shining in five innings against the New York Mets. He immediately showed his talent and absolute joy of the game itself. Fernández would go on to win the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013, finishing third in the Cy Young voting.

While José’s joy for the game was clear, it sometimes rubbed opposing players the wrong way. He has admired his own homeruns, but that comes more from the child inside than it does from showing up the opposing pitcher. Even after José had undergone Tommy John Surgery, he was in the Marlins’ dugout screaming as if his life depended on the outcome of each game. He was a fan of the game who just happened to be lucky enough to be living out the dream of doing what he loved.

Unfortunately, that dream would end on the morning of September 25, 2016. Fernández, along with two friends, were in a boating accident off of Miami Beach – all three men passed away. The Marlins would cancel their game that same day and an outpour of support flowed in from fans and players alike. Marlins players lost a family member who they had grown up with, while players and fans lost the personification of joy. On September 26, all Marlins players would wear Fernandez’s number 16 for the last time as they would retire the number for the entire organization. While the ceremonies and funerals have ended, José Fernández’s impact on the game will not soon be forgotten, nor will the joy that he brought millions each and every night.