By Michael Battista
Baseball, and sports in general, has all kinds of players.
Some are the stoic leading types who are the first on the field and the last to leave.
Others are the egotistical kind — those who know they are great and flaunt it — whether it be for a higher contract or from some insulting comment.
Then, there are the happy ones. The ones who have a smile on their face, love playing their game and are happy to just be there.
Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández was that type of person, and the world lost a light when he passed away on Sunday, Sept. 25. He was only 24 years old when he was killed in a boating accident off the coast of Miami.
The baseball world has already taken notice. The Marlins cancelled their game on Sunday against the Atlanta Braves and paid tribute by leaving flowers, a hat and a painting of his jersey number, 16, on the pitching mound.
Fernández, a Cuban immigrant who just became an American citizen last year, was a perfect fit for the Miami area. He attempted defection three times before finally making to the U.S. in 2011. He even dove into the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean to save his mother when she fell overboard during their journey. His heritage, story, personality and talent made him a fan favorite in Miami, where a huge population of Cubans reside, and that makes his loss so much harder to bear for fans.
Through all the messages of condolences and goodbyes from fans and players alike, many are remembering Fernández’s good heart and amazing play on the field.
ESPN’s Buster Olney remembered in a post that earlier this year, MLB held a game in Fort Bragg, N.C., the first game ever played on an active military base. While there, Fernández was asked by a fan to sign a flag, an 82nd Airborne Division flag. Instead of signing it himself, he took it around the dugout and had it signed by every member of the team.
This was the kind of person he was, but that’s only one part of him.
On the mound, Fernández had a promising future in MLB. After becoming an All-Star in his rookie year, he also won the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year voting, beating out the standout Dodgers star Yasiel Puig. His 2.19 ERA through 28 starts was impressive for the 21-year-old, and although he started less often during the next two years, the talent still showed.
His 2016 record was his best year yet. He won 16 games, the most in his four year career, and made it to his second All-Star Team.
José D. Fernández was not a Hall of Famer and he wasn’t a leader in Miami Marlins history. But the fact is he wasn’t done with his career. He could have done so much more good, been so much better and maybe even gone on to greater heights than he’d ever imagined.
Fernández may not have finished his story, but he lived his dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player.