Fernández Never Forgotten

Darren Zaslau, Sports Editor

José Fernández was one of the best pitchers in the history of the Miami Marlins. Posting a 16–8 overall record with a 2.86 earned-run average this season, the star right-handed pitcher will always be remembered for his dominance on the mound. And while Fernández’s on-field presence will never be forgotten, his charity work, community involvement and inspiration shines an even brighter light on the legacy that he leaves behind after his tragic death at the age of 24.

After a high-speed boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach on September 25 killed Fernández, baseball fans across the world were shocked. A first-round pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, Fernández had the determination and talent to become one of baseball’s best, in addition to making a difference off the field.

The Santa Clara, Cuba, native lived an inspirational life. He tried to defect from Cuba three times and was jailed after each attempt. In 2007, Fernández, along with his mother and sister, finally made it to the U.S., but not without peril. When their boat hit turbulent waters, his mother fell overboard, and Fernández dove into the water to save her life.

This represents exactly the kind of person Fernández was. He put the lives of others before his own. A philanthropist and inspiration to the people he came in contact with, Fernández was an honorary board member for Live Like Bella, a foundation raising money for pediatric cancer research. Upon winning the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award, which came with $20,000, he donated the entirety of his winnings to Live Like Bella to fund research at Oregon Health and Science University for rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer.

A year later, he donated an additional $34,000 to the foundation while also working for ALS charities and the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. In addition, for every Sunday home game, he would invite kids to Marlins Park to hang out in the dugout during warm-ups and watch the game.

Fernández also changed the lives of community members in the South Florida area. He was a hero to many Cuban-Americans who could relate to his struggle adapting to a new culture. Robert Palenzuela, a Cuban American from Miami, Fla., who placed flowers on Fernández’s grave, explained how much he meant to Palenzuela’s life and community.

“He was the inspiration, not only for me, but for my son who is 23-years old like José,” Palenzuela said. “Where he came from to come over here, learn the language, break all those barriers, the sacrifices he made, to have it end like it did. Tragic.”

Marlins manager Don Mattingly, though, remembers Fernández in a different way. The way Fernández played the game and the positive influence he had on others were qualities that Mattingly will never forget. “There’s just joy with him,” he said in an interview with FOX Sports. “The passion he felt about playing, that’s what I think about.”

To honor the life of José Fernández, the Miami Marlins canceled their game against the Atlanta Braves the day after his death. The following day, the Marlins played their series opener against the New York Mets in his honor. In every other game, players would wear their own numbers and last names on their jerseys. But, not on Sept. 26 where every Marlins player donned the number 16 with “Fernández” embroidered on the back of their jerseys to play the game for their lost teammate.

Though Fernández’s impact on the baseball diamond will never be forgotten, his legacy should inspire other professional athletes to make an even larger difference off the field. Fernández’s contributions to the Marlins starting rotation, including his ability to throw a fastball over 95 miles per hour and the 38 wins he recorded throughout his career, don’t come close to the lives he changed through his donations to charity and community involvement.

“He was a pillar to our community,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Lorenzo Veloz said to CNN. “He was involved in everything he could be to give back.”

Fernández’s legacy as one of baseball’s all time greats is secured, but he leaves behind so much more than impressive stats. The on-field pictures he took with children when he brought them to see their first Marlins game exemplify the joy and and lasting memories he left.