by Carly Cronin

Earlier this week one of the brightest lights in baseball went out.  His name was Jose Fernandez, a major league player with the Florida Marlins.  Hernandez was best known for his infectious smile, his deep love of family, and his incredible talent as a player. He was only 24 years old. Fernandez and two others were tragically killed in a boating accident on Sunday September 25th.  The fishing vessel was found upside down on a jetty off the coast of Miami Beach.  Fernandez was an avid fisherman and died doing what he loved most when he was not on the mound pitching for the Marlins.   

In one sense, Fernandez’ life story is not so unique; a young Cuban boy in search of a better life in America with the will to find his way into this country no matter how many times he had to try. He was born in 1992 and grew up in Santa Clara, Cuba.  Life was very difficult there and his family knew they had to get out. His stepfather, Ramon, defected in 2005 and settled in Miami, Florida.  He urged his family to find a way to join him now that he had a place for them to come to. Jose attempted to flee to the United Stated several times before he and some of his family succeeded. With each failed attempt, he spent time in prison, but that did not deter him from trying again.  When he and his mother and sister finally made it out of Cuba, they moved to Florida and began a new life there; a life of freedom.  Many stories have been shared about his perseverance and determination to come to America to share his talent with the world.  He had a gift.  

As a baseball player, Fernandez surely made his name known in the baseball world and beyond.  He was a standout player for his high school in Florida and began to catch the scout’s eyes.  After some controversy surrounding his eligibility for the draft, he won an appeal and was declared eligible.  In 2011, the Florida Marlins selected Jose in the first round.  From there, his success just soared from his time in the minors until he reached the big leagues.  He was named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year.  In 2013, he joined the ranks of the Majors and was named Rookie of the Year.  He continued to have success on the mound and was in the prime of his career when tragedy struck.  In his last game on September 20, 2016, he pitched 8 shutout innings in a 1-0 win and told his teammates he felt that it was “the best game he ever pitched”.  

As the world of baseball and beyond heard of the unspeakable tragedy, it seemed that time just stopped.  All of a sudden the “game” didn’t seem so important…PERSPECTIVE. The Florida Marlins held a press conference where their raw emotions left nothing to question. Their scheduled game for that day was cancelled and tributes began to come from each MLB clubhouse. One of Jose Fernandez’ best friends is the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop, Aledmys Diaz, who grew up with Jose in Cuba.  When he heard the news he was granted permission to leave to be with Jose’s family, even though he had a game that evening.  He stated, “This is family.  The wild card race can wait.  These are just baseball games”…PERSPECTIVE.  All over the country, various teams honored Fernandez in some way. David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox asked that he not be honored that evening, as was planned, for that day was not a day to celebrate.  Players wrote his initials and numbers on their caps, jersey’s and equipment.  Ballparks displayed his jersey in their dugouts and held a moment of silence in his honor. Players shared memories of how Jose taught them to fight for their dreams, to not let negativity rule their lives and to hold family close…PERSPECTIVE. 

In researching and reporting this tragic story, I took a moment to reflect upon all of us who call ourselves athletes.  As a Division 1 Lacrosse player at Bryant University, I am a member of a team that is driven…driven to work hard, to train, to win.  We get wrapped up in our sport, the wins and losses, the awards, and championships.  But each time a tragedy occurs, we take pause and step back to see the greater lesson.  We consciously know that in the end, it is just a game, whether amateur or professional.  Some things are just more important – the nature of the human spirit, the camaraderie among our teammates and colleagues, and the common understanding of how fragile life can be.  What is important in life are not the wins and losses, the number of awards or championships but the memories you have created, the kindness you have shown, the way in which you have given back to society and the difference you have made in your time here on Earth…PERSPECTIVE.