In late September 2016 Major League Baseball fans were devastated by the tragic news that Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez had died. Yet while the sporting star’s passing left many in shock, his final Instagram post to his pregnant girlfriend Maria left countless more in tears.
In the early hours of September 25, Coast Guards discovered the wreckage of an overturned boat in Miami Harbor. After surveying the scene, they found the bodies of three men – one of whom was baseball star Jose Fernandez.
Earlier that night, the famed Marlins pitcher had taken to the waters in his prized fishing boat with his friends Eddy Rivero and Emilio Macias in tow. But while traveling at speeds estimated at around 65 mph, Fernandez’s craft crashed into a jetty, capsized and landed on nearby rocks.
Undoubtedly, news of his passing left many in disbelief. Indeed, Fernandez – a 24-year-old Cuban émigré – had tackled many challenges throughout his life, and he was, moreover, seen as being among the most promising up-and-coming players in Major League Baseball.
Tragic details soon emerged of how Fernandez’s teammates had attempted to stop him hitting the waters. “That night I told him, ‘Don’t go out,’” outfielder Marcell Ozuna told The Miami Herald. “Everybody knew he was crazy about that boat. I woke up Sunday and that’s when I found out. I cried and cried.”
And, as well as leaving the lives of his many fans and teammates emptier, Fernandez left behind his girlfriend Maria Arias, with whom he was expecting a child. Plus – in a tragic turn of events – he had announced the pregnancy on Instagram just days before his death.
Fernandez’s death cut short a life and a career that had already defeated insurmountable odds. Fernandez was born in Cuba in 1992, but the ambitious youngster quickly set his sights on the U.S. and risked everything he had to get there.
During his early teens, then, the future star made several unsuccessful attempts to cross over to the States, all of which resulted in him being put behind bars. Moreover, his fourth try nearly ended in disaster when his mother fell overboard, forcing a 15-year-old Fernandez to jump in and rescue her.
However, Fernandez wouldn’t need a fifth attempt and in 2008 he and his family settled in Tampa, Florida. Shortly after, he began playing baseball at his local high school, where he caught the eye of Miami Marlins scouts.
In 2011 the Marlins signed Fernandez for a staggering $2 million and he soon began pitching in the minor league. Within two years, Fernandez made his MLB debut and this promising start led to him winning multiple Rookie of the Year awards.
While his career was hitting staggering heights, Fernandez had also found happiness off field. In 2016 the star met psychology student Maria Arias, and the two fell head-over-heels in love.
Almost immediately, the pair began making plans for the future and – in mid-September – the star posted a picture on Instagram which delighted his fans. In it, Arias stood proudly cradling her stomach and the pair’s unborn child.
And the post was accompanied by a tear-jerking caption: “I’m so glad you came into my life,” Fernandez wrote. He then outlined his hope for the pair’s future, stating, “I’m ready for where this journey is gonna take us together.”
Alas, fate has a cruel way of playing tricks. Within less than a week, Fernandez would be dead and his post now serves as an untimely reminder of what could have been. Arias – who is four months pregnant – is due in February, and she will unfortunately now have to face motherhood without him.
Upon news of his death, Fernandez received floods of tributes from grief stricken fans and former colleagues. In the Marlin’s first game following his passing, his former teammates paid their respects by donning identical jerseys bearing his name and number.
And while visiting Florida, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton even said a few words in respect. “He pursued his dreams,” she said at a recent rally. “He wanted to and became one of the best baseball players that Miami has ever seen and he never forgot where he came from.”
Indeed, Fernandez valued his Cuban identity and this made him a hero within the Cuban-American community. During the star’s memorial service at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church, legions of fans congregated outside as a mark of respect.
“When Miami saw Jose on the mound, they saw more than just a right arm,” Cuban-American senator Marco Rubio said in a speech last Tuesday. “They saw their hopes and dreams and aspirations. This is what the American dream looks like and boy, is the American dream alive and well.”
Aside from his work on the pitch, Fernandez will be remembered for his effervescent showmanship and his joyful attitude. Moreover, he had an extremely big heart and committed hours of his time to fans, family and charitable causes.
And so while Fernandez’s death and his message to Arias is indeed sad, he leaves behind a rich legacy that ensures his place in sporting history. He may not have reached his full potential, but we’ll always remember him for his spirited take on baseball.