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José Fernández Meant More To South Florida Than Just a Great Arm

Pedro Portal
El Nuevo Herald
Jose Fernandez was a star for the Marlins, and one of its charismatic players. At one point, numerous teams looked to trade for him.

It's been more than a day now and it still doesn't make sense. When a young person dies, it seldom ever does. Sunday morning Marlins ace José Fernández, 24 years old, died in a boating accident when his vessel struck the jetty near Government Cut channel. The two other men on the boat have been identified as Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25.

The Marlins are expected to take the field Monday against the New York Mets. It was likely going to be Fernández' start. It's unimaginable how the team must feel. How will they finish the season? Mathematically, the Marlins are still in the race for the postseason. Does that even matter anymore?

Andre Fernandez, beat reporter for the Marlins, says the players will go out there and do their job. But yeah, it  will be tough, especially when they have to look at his empty locker.

I must admit a few things. I never saw Fernández play live, only on television. I never met him or interviewed him. And, I'm not Cuban. I'm of Puerto Rican and Colombian heritage. Neither me or my family had to risk the Florida straits to come to the United States. But through my youth in south Florida I knew plenty of Cubans who either did make the treacherous journey or had a family member who did, so I'm very familiar with the story. 

Many years ago I was a sports reporter. During that time I got to meet a lot of athletes in all sports. I can honestly say, I've never seen a community embrace a player as this one embraced Fernández. Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald can better explain it.

Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald said Fernández was more than an athletic celebrity or hero...he was family.

And during all those years of covering sports I can't remember ever running into a player who had the zest for life Fernández did. Remember, I never met him, but that exuberance and joy came through on television and in all those interviews. He could make a loss seem OK. 

The only thing I could surmise as to why he seemed such a happy human was his history. Maybe it was all those years in an oppressive society. Maybe it was four tries at defecting, only to be thrown in prison, before finally making it.

Then it was the fear, intimidation, and loneliness of being a stranger in a strange land. I can't even fathom what it must have been like. Dan Le Batard expressed so much of this young man's life so beautifully

Every hour I learn a little more about his life. The more I learn about this amazing player and man, the sadder I become. He didn't just have the potential to make this Marlins team great, he had the potential to bring the team and the city back together. He had the potential to help so many people, to inspire so many children, especially his own.

I just arrived in Miami two years ago, ready to embrace my newfound home, and call myself a Miamian. I'm learning from José Fernández, who truly loved life in the Magic City, exactly how to become that Miamian.





Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.
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