Marlins remember Fernandez as courageous freedom fighter
The Miami Marlins remembered plentiful positives in working with Jose Fernandez after the pitcher died in a boating accident on Sunday.
Fernandez was one of three people found dead in the early hours of Sunday morning by the U.S. Coast Guard, after the boat they had been on overturned following an apparent collision with a jetty at the Government Cut shipping channel.
The 24-year-old had revealed just this week on Instagram that he was expecting his first child with partner Carla Mendoza.
"It's been a tough day for everyone," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said at a news conference that included Marlins players, team president David Samson and manager Don Mattingly.
"Everyone reflects on their history with Jose. I think back to seeing that precocious, young high school senior in the All-Star Game and sitting at his kitchen table as we attempted to sign him.
"I don't know if there's words to express how I feel. It's a tremendous loss. My heart goes out to his family."
Hill then broke down in tears, as did others while speaking about Fernandez. Marlins pitcher Mike Dunn held a Fernandez jersey.
A tearful Mattingly cited the joy with which Fernandez played.
"When he pitched, as bad as he would make you [look] with some of the stuff he would do, you'd just see that little kid you see when you watch kids play Little League," Mattingly said. "That's the joy Jose played with and the passion he felt about playing."
Fernandez defected to the U.S. from Cuba in 2007 with his mother and sister after three previous unsuccessful attempts to leave the island nation. Each failed attempt resulted in a brief prison term in Cuba. On their final attempt, a 15-year-old Fernandez jumped into the water to save his mother from drowning.
"Jose had some many fans, not just here in Miami, but in Cuba and around the country," Samson said.
"He was a model for Cuban-Americans and for all people who need to work harder than most to have freedom. He represented freedom in a way most no one can understand when you're born in freedom.
"He would always tell me that 'You were born in to freedom. You don't understand freedom, really,' was his famous line he said so many times to many of us.
"To all those fans, what Jose would want is for everybody who loved him to just make sure you always remember him and what he stood for. Tell the story to your kids and to your grandkids about what it is to fight for freedom, about what it is to fight for what you believe in and to do what's right, no matter what the obstacles are.
"That is the ultimate honour that you could pay to Jose Fernandez."
Fernandez was one the best pitchers in baseball and had a promising career ahead of him. He was a first-round draft pick of the Marlins in 2011, National League rookie of the year in 2013 and a two-time All-Star, including this season, which was the best of his four-year MLB career.
"We're not robots. We're humans and we feel," third baseman Martin Prado said. "He made an impact on every single person on this team in different ways.
"I understand the fact that we have to play games and be professional about it. There's a lot of pain. In some way, we've got to overcome that. But right now, it's hard to explain."
The Marlins cancelled Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves.