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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Mourning the loss of a Marlins player on and off the diamond

<p>Miami Marlins player Christian Yelich, right, and teammate Justin Bour react in front of a memorial on the pitcher's mound at Marlins Park for Marlins pitcher Jose Fernanedez, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016 in Miami. Fernandez, the ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball's brightest stars, was killed in a boating accident early Sunday morning. The game between the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves was cancelled.</p>

Miami Marlins player Christian Yelich, right, and teammate Justin Bour react in front of a memorial on the pitcher's mound at Marlins Park for Marlins pitcher Jose Fernanedez, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016 in Miami. Fernandez, the ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball's brightest stars, was killed in a boating accident early Sunday morning. The game between the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves was cancelled.

In a cramped room outside the Marlins Park locker room, a grinning José Fernández sat in front of cameras and reporters.

Donning a backwards cap and a sleeveless shirt, the young Miami Marlins pitcher fielded questions after a win June 26. He was on a high — his team was 41-35 after beating the mighty Chicago Cubs.

He had aspirations of winning a World Series for his city.

And then, a slight moment of awkwardness arose.

One reporter’s phone rang. Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played.

Some players might have brushed it off or become agitated.

Fernández, however, embraced it.

“Yeah,” he said before pausing. “Hopefully we can play that song at the end of the season.”

He sent everyone in the room into laughter like only he could.

But sadly, that dream won’t be realized.

Fernández was killed in a boating accident early Sunday morning off Miami Beach, taken from the earth at just 24 years old. He was one of MLB’s budding stars, a talented player with an arm and a smile like no other.

His death shook the baseball world.

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I had the privilege to meet Fernández and witness that smile every day this summer on an internship. I grew up a Marlins fan and remember watching him pitch as a teenager just a few years ago in the Marlins farm system at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida.

Now his career and life are in the past. But his legacy shouldn’t be, and we should all strive to live every day like he did.

Fernández played the game like his life depended on it. He defected from Cuba before playing high-school ball in Tampa. “Beautiful” and “blessing” were words he’d use to describe his job.

They say some players wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Well, José Fernández plastered his all over his damn uniform.

Off the field, though, his personality lit up rooms. It shined brighter than any ball-park light could.

Even if you aren’t a fan of baseball, take a moment to watch one of Fernández’s games.

Heck, just watch the highlights. I promise you won’t regret it.

You’ll see that Fernández lived life to the fullest and made everyone around him smile. That was no different for his teammates, coaches, fans and even media members.

When I first saw the news scrolling on Twitter, I was in disbelief.

My heart sank.

Nausea settled in.

I wanted to vomit all over the bright-orange Marlins T-shirt I was wearing.

I don’t remember where I was Sept. 11, 2001, but I sure as hell won’t forget where I was Sept. 25, 2016.

That’s how much he influenced those around him.

Fernández may have only been 24, but he didn’t act like it around people. If you walked past him in the clubhouse, he’d ask you how you were doing.

He cared, and we should too.

Rest easy, José. You won’t be forgotten.

Patrick Pinak is a UF journalism senior and the Alligator online sports editor. This summer, he covered the Miami Marlins as an intern with mlb.com.

Miami Marlins player Christian Yelich, right, and teammate Justin Bour react in front of a memorial on the pitcher's mound at Marlins Park for Marlins pitcher Jose Fernanedez, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016 in Miami. Fernandez, the ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball's brightest stars, was killed in a boating accident early Sunday morning. The game between the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves was cancelled.

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