Marlins Pitcher José Fernández And 2 Others Die In Boating Accident

Sep 26, 2016
Originally published on September 26, 2016 7:47 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Major League Baseball is in mourning today. Yesterday, it lost one of its brightest stars when Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. Ballparks across the country came to a standstill yesterday to remember the 24-year-old pitcher. This was in Baltimore.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He risked everything to come to this country from Cuba. And the game was made better by the joy he brought to the field. We ask that you join us in a moment of silence.

GREENE: And NPR's Eyder Peralta brings us this appreciation.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: After they heard the news, the Miami Marlins canceled their game against the Atlanta Braves. The whole team then gathered at the clubhouse for a press conference, where they wiped away tears and stood in stunned silence as David Samson, the team president, remembered Jose Fernandez.

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DAVID SAMSON: His story is representative of a story of hope and of love and of faith. And no one will ever let that story die.

PERALTA: Fernandez's story is indeed stunning. He tried three times to leave Cuba, only to get caught and thrown in jail. On the fourth try, a 15-year-old Fernandez saved his mother when she was thrown overboard. But he made it to Mexico, then to the United States and finally to the major leagues, where he became a rookie of the year at age 21 in 2013.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: One, two - fastball, got him. Jose Fernandez in this house is unbelievable.

JESSE SANCHEZ: The best way to describe Jose Fernandez is pure joy.

PERALTA: That's Jesse Sanchez, a writer for mlb.com.

SANCHEZ: I think that's really why, you know, he had such a dramatic impact on people. Aside from that, he was a phenomenal pitcher, an All-Star - I mean, one of the elite, one of the best.

PERALTA: On the mound, Fernandez was always smiling. He'd smile after he'd struck somebody out with his notorious 90-plus-mile-an-hour fastball. But he'd also tip his hat when an opponent got the best of him. In the dugout, he became known as the team's jokester.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: I think he's saying that Jose Fernandez won't stop talking.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Yeah, that - oh, that's all the time.

PERALTA: Here he was during a recent game hamming it up with Barry Bonds, the Marlins' hitting coach. At one point, the two look into the camera and blow air kisses.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: They just coordinated blowing a kiss. All right.

PERALTA: Whenever Fernandez was asked about his experience or his career, he said he was lucky. He was lucky to leave Cuba. He was lucky to make it back to baseball after Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2014. He was a guy who kept his privilege and sport in perspective. Here's what he said when he was asked by Fox Sports Net why he played the game with such emotion.

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JOSE FERNANDEZ: You know, I think it's a game. And I think it's a game, and you got to play it like it's a game. That's the only way that I know how to play it. And was out - without disrespecting nobody and, you know, without, you know, hurting anybody's feelings.

PERALTA: Jose Fernandez was at the top of his game this season - a 2.86 ERA, an All-Star with 16 wins under his belt. Just five days ago, he said he was excited about a new journey. On Instagram, he posted a picture of his pregnant girlfriend on the beach. Eyder Peralta, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.