When Gainesville resident Peter Ynigo heard the news, his Cuban pride came out.
Ynigo, the owner of Mi Apa Latin Cafe of Gainesville, grew up watching the Miami Marlins baseball team and, more recently, the team’s Cuban-born pitcher José Fernández.
So when Fernández died in a boating accident Sept. 25, Ynigo decided to honor his memory the best way he could.
Beginning Friday, the employees at both Mi Apa locations, in Alachua and Gainesville, are wearing commemorative orange-and-blue number 16s — Fernández’s number — on their shirts. And for the next week, a portion of the restaurants’ sales will be donated to the late baseball player’s foundation, the JDF16 Foundation.
Ynigo said motivation for the promotion at his Cuban restaurants came after hearing Fernández’s harrowing story about how he successfully defected from Cuba to Miami and went on to become one of the best baseball players in MLB, becoming a South Florida icon in the process.
“The day we heard about it, it was such a big thing in South Florida,” Ynigo said. “I could see from my balcony where the accident happened. In Gainesville, nobody was really talking about it, so I said, ‘We need to do it.’”
When he was 7 years old, Ynigo defected from Cuba with his grandfather and parents, settling in Miami.
A huge fan of American and Cuban baseball, Ynigo said he was drawn to Fernández while he was still in high school. He followed Fernández throughout his career, one that would eventually include a National League Rookie of the Year Award and two all-star appearances.
But what stood out to him about Fernández was how he carried himself off the field.
“What I admired about him was about how humble he was and his relationship with his mom and his grandma,” he said, adding that Fernández’s closeness to his family never faltered.
For Ynigo, the 24-year-old pitcher was someone to look up to. When news broke of Fernández’s death off of Miami Beach, Ynigo said the baseball community was shaken.
“We just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, Luke Guinart sat down at the restaurant’s Southwest 34th Street location, where about 10 employees bore Fernández’s number.
At first, the baseball fan said he didn’t know why the employees were wearing the number. When he found out, he nodded his head.
“It’s nice of them to do this,” Guinart said.
Employees at Mi Apa Latin Cafe of Gainesville wear orange-and-blue number 16s on their shirts to honor the memory of Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández, who died on Sept. 25 in a boating accident.