On the passing of Jose Fernandez: Its impact beyond baseball



Eddie Brancale

Courtesy of MLB.com

The baseball world may never be the same after the death of the Miami Marlin’s Jose Fernandez. 

Many remember Fernandez was one of the driving forces of baseball’s future, the face of the Marlins as well as a superstar in his community. The combination of Fernandez’s talent and passion made him unique in the sport. 

Today, baseball is often watered down by its slow, methodical games and stiff atmosphere. Fernandez was an exception. Watching Fernandez pitch was a spectacle. It’s difficult to put into words for those unfamiliar with him, but Fernandez put on a show every time he took the mound. As a Mets fan, I had become familiar with Fernandez after watching him consistently dominate my favorite team. 

Known for his deceptive slider and devastating fastball, Fernandez took baseball by storm in 2013, ascending the ranks as one of the most promising players in baseball, winning the Rookie of the Year award. 

What really set Fernandez apart from the rest was his overwhelming love and passion for not just the game, but also for everyone around him. Fernandez, a Cuban defector, never forgot what he’d been through in his journey to the United States, and never took his success for granted, treating the game as a privilege rather than a job. 

All of that promise was tragically wiped away when Fernandez, and friends Eddy Rivero and Emilio Macias, were killed in a boating accident off the coast of Miami on Sept. 25. 

The news was met with shock throughout the sports world. Flashbacks of Thurman Munson and Roberto Clemente, two baseball legends tragically killed in plane crashes, came to the minds of baseball fans everywhere. 

Waking up to news like this was not only heartbreaking but infuriating. The thought of not being able to watch Fernandez dominate the league for years to come just felt unfair. It may seem selfish to think this way, but for many, Fernandez represented the future, a beacon of light on the horizon. Baseball is a worthwhile distraction from the seriousness of life, and it is fun to put our faith in these players and teams that we have very little control over. 

But when tragedy strikes even baseball, a solace for many, it can be devastating in ways a non-sports fan may not understand. We devote major parts of our lives to following sports, and it gives many a sense of joy that they may not be able to find anywhere else. To have that taken away without warning seems like an injustice. 

It is not often that athletes are lost in the middle of their careers—let alone star athletes—but when it happens, it evokes a sense of mourning, hopelessness and frustration. 

Len Bias, the second overall pick by the Boston Celtics in 1986, died a mere two days after being drafted, due to a drug overdose. Drazen Petrovic, a star shooter for the New Jersey Nets, was killed in a car crash in 1993. In a moment, everything these players represent, whether it be hope, joy, or toughness, is taken away, and we are left to ponder what could have been. 

Taking baseball out of the equation, the city of Miami, a largely Latin-American city with a large population of Cuban-Americans, lost its foundational player both on the field and in the community. The Cuban experience in the U.S. is rooted in the city of Miami, and Fernandez’s involvement in the community and positive influence on young Cuban children will be sorely missed, and it may be difficult to fill that void in the future. 

An interesting aspect of Fernandez’s death is the profound effect it had on thousands of fans who never had the chance to meet him. Some may just dismiss this as just another celebrity death and may question how genuinely people can feel the loss of a person they never even met. The lack of a personal connection does not diminish the impact of a loss like this. 

In many ways, Fernandez was larger than life. He didn’t just inspire his fans to play baseball, but he also inspired them to live their lives in the manner in which he played the game. Life is too often treated as a job, an everyday slog where one day blends into the next seamlessly. There may be no greater representation of this than the game of baseball. Players go through 162-game seasons with very few off days, compounding injuries and various clubhouse disputes. 

Fernandez made all of this seem like a joy, that no matter how frustrating it can be, whether it be baseball or life, it can’t be forgotten how sacred it is and how quickly it can be taken away. 

He transcended the sport in ways that many players cannot. Jose Fernandez did not die in vain and shouldn’t have died with any regret, as he lived his day to day life in a manner we could all look up to. Lost in all of this is the child Jose will never know. Shortly before his death, he revealed that his girlfriend was pregnant with his first baby. It is a travesty that this baby will never get to meet his or her father, but they will come to know their father through the immortal legacy he leaves behind. 

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was quoted as saying, “Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest.” 

He is correct. It’s not easy to say goodbye to someone like Jose Fernandez, but we have to, and sometimes that’s just life.