A Complicated Legacy: The Death of Jose Fernandez Five Years Later

On the 20th of September in 2016, former Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was having a day many can only dream of.

He had pitched the “finest” game ever, as his teammates informed him that he had thrown a shutout in eight innings. On the same day, he announced to his girlfriend, who happened to be pregnant, about his accomplishment.

Investigators said that when the boat crashed and overturned, all three onboard were killed. Fernandez said that he was behind the wheel at the time of the boating accident off Miami Beach, and he had cocaine in his system. Investigators also mentioned that Fernandez was legally intoxicated. Beyond being a cultural hero and pitching phenom in South Florida’s Cuban community, Fernandez was only 24 years old and had just pitched for 96 hours before the accident.

As an adolescent, a survivor who had fled communist Cuba, the calamity cast a shadow over the life of a youthful individual who, at the moment of his demise, was one of the most promising rising talents in Major League Baseball.

One year later, after leaving Florida, Fernandez arrived in Mexico in 2007. It was during this journey that his mother fell overboard, and he made a fourth attempt to save her. Fernandez had already tried to defect three times before the age of 15, which resulted in him being imprisoned. His determination to reach American land struck a chord with many people in the South.

At the age of 19, Fernandez began his career in the major leagues in less than two years. In June 2011, he was selected in the first round by the Marlins. Throughout his final year in high school at Alonso High School in Tampa, he achieved two state championships and suffered only one defeat.

Someone who had the world in the palm of his hand and was a two-time All-Star, Fernandez was the Rookie of the Year in the National League in 2013. In less than four seasons with the Marlins, Fernandez went 17-38 in 76 career starts, with 589 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA.

Fernandez’s life and career would come to an end in the early morning hours of September 25th when he crashed the 32-foot boat he was piloting into the jetty at a site that had seen several fatal boat crashes in the past year, alone.

Fernandez perished upon collision, whereas Emilio Macias, aged 27, and Eduardo Rivero, aged 25, also lost their lives at the location.

NBC 6 reporter Ari Odzer, who reported on the incident that day and in the subsequent days, expressed, “Although it was not intended for a funeral, that’s exactly what it felt like when the players gathered behind the microphone… A representative from the team appeared and informed us that there would be a press conference. We were uncertain about what to anticipate. I arrived at the baseball stadium on the morning of the accident.”

The neighborhood grieved as the Marlins’ match that day against the Atlanta Braves would be called off. Coach Don Mattingly spoke to the press alongside former team president David Samson.

Odzer expressed, “In a state of overwhelming sorrow, Yelich Christian and Stanton Giancarlo, similar to stars, were the most resilient professional athletes here.”

On October 2nd, the ashes of Fernandez were scattered at sea, and on September 28th, a public memorial was held to honor A. Fernandez. On the following day, all players of the Marlins would return to action, wearing No. 16 jerseys.

“In addition to the profound sense of grief and sorrow, that particular moment remains etched in my memory whenever I reflect on that day,” Odzer shared. “It was genuinely otherworldly, a calamity that continues to have a lasting impact on both the team and the community,” Odzer further mentioned.

In the following three seasons, the organization experienced a collective 89 games concluding with a winning percentage below .500. This marked the start of a decline for the Marlins. Within a brief period, the departure of an immigrant who had accomplished the American dream for the community was a significant loss.

The legacy of Fernandez would be somewhat tarnished when investigators stated in a report on the incident in March 2017 that speed played a factor in the crash that resulted in Fernandez’s blood alcohol content being nearly twice the legal limit.

Rivero and Macias settled the claims with Fernandez’s lawyer, denying the toxicology reports showing cocaine in his system at the time of the crash, two years later.

In the years that have passed, a now four-year-old girl named Penelope has had to mature without her father.

Maritza Gomez-Fernandez, the mother of Fernandez, expressed, “On the 2017 crash’s first anniversary, I am aware that regardless of his whereabouts, he is vigilantly looking after and safeguarding her, despite being unable to perceive her. I will be present to narrate her father’s tale since I am the most suitable individual to enlighten her about anything she requires.”

In September 2016, the South Florida community and fans of the Marlins had the same question: what if different events had occurred?