On the morning of September 25, 2016, the entire Major League Baseball world fell in shock at the tragic news related to one of the rising stars within the league. Early that Sunday morning, starting right-handed pitcher José Fernández of the Miami Marlins was killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach at the age of 24. He was originally scheduled to start a matchup against the Mets on the following day.
“Baseball is bigger than a game,” said PLNU pitcher Trevor Abshire. “People get caught up in rivalries and championships but when something like this happens, we realize that these players are people with families who they love.”
Fernández grew up in Cuba until the age of 16. He had unsuccessfully attempted three times to leave Cuba for the United States before he finally reached Tampa, Florida in 2008. Three years later, he was drafted in the first round by the Florida Marlins (former name of the Miami Marlins). The morning of his death, a press conference was held by the Marlins; his life story that originated in Cuba was mentioned.
“José is a member of this family for all time,” Marlins President David Samson said at the press conference. “A member of the city of Miami, all of South Florida, and all Cuban Americans. His story is representative of hope, love, and faith, and nobody will ever let that story die.”
Just five days earlier, in his final game as a Marlin, Fernández pitched eight shutout innings at home against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. He only allowed three hits, had 12 strikeouts, and the Marlins went on to win 1-0.
“One of the guys said he told him that the last game he pitched against the Nationals was the best game he had ever pitched,” said teammate Martín Prado, who recently joined the Marlins in 2015. “Now he’s gone.”
The Marlins’ home game against the Braves on the same day was cancelled. All other MLB games had a league-wide moment of silence in his honor. The Miami Dolphins, who had an NFL matchup against the Cleveland Browns on the same day, also had a moment of silence in tribute.
The following Monday, the Marlins resumed play against the New York Mets at home. The team honored Fernández before the game, and every player wore a No. 16 jersey in his honor. On the first pitch of the game for the Marlins, second baseman Dee Gordon batted right-handed and wore Fernandez’s batting helmet. After switching back to his natural left-handed position, Gordon hit a solo home run on the third pitch and ran around the bases while holding back tears. He was sobbing by the time he was in the dugout embracing teammates.
“I [have] never hit a ball that far, even in batting practice,” Gordon said in the post-game press conference. “I told the boys, ‘If you all don’t believe in God, you better start.’ For that to happen today, we had some help.”
Despite the New York Mets fighting for a playoff position at the time, the Marlins would end up winning an emotional game 7-3. The Marlins would finish the 2016 regular season 79-82.
Fernández won NL Rookie of the Year in 2013, and was elected to the All-Star Game twice: once in 2013 and a second time in 2016. He finishes his career with a 38-17 record, a 2.58 ERA, 589 strikeouts, and a 1.05 WHIP over the course of four seasons. His 253 strikeouts in 2016 was his career-high. The only pitchers who finished with more strikeouts this season were Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers (254) and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals (284), who are both veterans over the age of 30.