José Fernández, 24Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images
Cuban-born José Fernández was living his dream: only 24 years old, he was one of the brightest baseball stars in recent memory. His young girlfriend was pregnant with the couple’s first child. He had been named MLB’s Rookie of the Year in 2013, and, at the time of his death in a boating accident, was finishing his fourth and strongest season in the league. His death sent shockwaves through south Florida, Major League Baseball and the Cuban-American communities to whom he had become a hero.
Fernández at Marlins Park on April 6, 2014 during a game with the San Diego Padres.
Against the Atlanta Braves on July 1, Fernández hit a game-winning double in the 12th inning.
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Fernández was born on July 31, 1992 in Santa Clara, Cuba. Jorge Soler, the Chicago Cubs outfielder, grew up with him, and says it was clear from the start that Fernández had exceptional talent. As a teenager, Fernández made several unsuccessful attempts to flee Cuba for Miami, landing in a Cuban prison at age 14 for trying to defect. In 2008, during the boat trip that finally got him to Florida by way of Mexico, his mother was washed overboard. Fernández dove in after her and dragged her back to the boat, saving her life.
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They settled in Tampa, where Fernández attended Alonso High School and began working with pitching coach Orlando Chinea, a fellow defector who trained young prospects in south Florida. Fernández was a first-round draft pick for the Marlins in 2011, and the 14th overall league pick. He played in two All-Star games (2013 and 2016), and was a fan favorite for his easy manner and quick smile, not to mention his heat from the mound (his fastball routinely clocked 96 miles per hour). In the 2016 season, he averaged 12.5 strikeouts per nine-inning game, the fifth-best average in baseball history.
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Fernández and two others were killed early on Sept. 25 when the speedboat they were in crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach. Later, Fernández was found to have cocaine in his system, as well as a blood-alcohol level of 0.147 (Florida’s legal limit is 0.08). As fans came to grips with the sudden loss of a great talent, the grieving Marlins announced that they would retire his No. 16 jersey. “Nobody’s going to wear it,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told Florida reporters. “I can tell you that now, nobody will wear that number again.”