José D. Fernández (July 31, 1992 – September 25, 2016) died in a boating accident near a rocky Miami Beach inlet on September 25, 2016.
Fernández was a professional baseball pitcher who came to the U.S. from Cuba just years before his baseball career started. He played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Miami Marlins from 2013 until his death last week.
The Marlins announced that they will retire his uniform number to honor the young player. Fernández made his MLB debut on April 7, 2013
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Fernández was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. He made three unsuccessful attempts at leaving before finally arriving in the U.S. in 2008. He attended Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, Florida, and was selected by the Marlins in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft.
He was named to the 2013 MLB All-Star Game and won the National League (NL) Rookie of the Month Award in July and August. After the season, he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and finished third in Cy Young Award balloting. He underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2014 season, and made the MLB All-Star Game again in 2016.
In Santa Clara, an influential childhood friend was the future MLB shortstop, Aledmys Díaz. They played for the same youth baseball team, and Díaz’s father and uncle encouraged Fernández’s mother to bring him to the ballpark. Fernández commented that had Díaz’s uncle not been an influence early in his life, he would not have pursued a professional baseball career.
Fernández considered his grandmother, Olga, the “love of his life.” After six years apart, Olga and José were reunited in Miami after the 2013 baseball season. On April 24, 2015, Fernández became a U.S. citizen.
On September 20, 2016, Fernández announced that his girlfriend was pregnant with their first child.
Early on the morning of Sunday September 25, 2016, Fernández was killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach, Florida, that also killed two others. The U.S. Coast Guard found the boat, Kaught Looking, at about 3:00 a.m., overturned on a jetty near Government Cut and South Pointe Park, and found three victims. A Florida Wildlife Commission official confirmed that Fernández had not been driving the boat and that he had been killed from the impact of the crash.
Despite its American origin, baseball is strongly associated with Cuban nationalism, as it effectively replaced colonial Spanish sports such as bullfighting. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the league system in Cuba has been officially amateur. Top players are placed on the national team, earning stipends for training and playing in international competitions.
Here are all the Cubans who have come to the U.S. to play baseball: