By Kyle Rowley
It was June 6th, 2011.
My dad had just come down to Miami to take me and my friend to the Florida Marlins game against the Milwaukee Brewers at then Sun Life Stadium.
We finished our subs in the parking lot and walked in.
I had my Mike Stanton jersey on, hoping to see the Marlins hopefully not get swept in a four game series.
They had dropped the first three in the series, and it was the usual Marlins decline in the standings as the season went on.
But that night, I was just happy to be at the ballpark, it’s the beauty of baseball. The night also had another avenue of Marlins importance, as they held the 14th pick in the MLB draft.
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After Prince Fielder put the Brewers on top with a homer in the first inning, I followed my draft tracker.
I remember that draft class had so many studs at the top that I wanted the Marlins to nab.
Of course, Gerrit Cole seemed to be a given to go #1. He did.
My favorite prospect was Bubba Starling, a five tool outfielder, who ended up going 5th. I also loved Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer.
As the draft progressed, so did the game I was at. The Brewers scored three more in the 3rd inning to go up 4-1.
As Florida got on the clock, I didn’t really know what to expect. My phone reception, like most times at stadiums, was very slow. The pick wasn’t coming in, and my curiosity began to rise.
In between innings, the announcer in the stadium alerted the fans who had just been added to the Fish family.
“With the 14th pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Player Draft, the Florida Marlins select RHP Jose Fernandez from Braulio Alonso High School.”
I honestly didn’t know much about him, and hadn’t scouted his game at all. I figured that a high school pitcher was at least three years away so I would think about the pick later.
Little did I know how important that moment was for not only the Marlins organization, but its fans. Myself included.
I went back to the game and finished watching us lose to the Brewers 7-2, as Zack Greinke was dominant. It was nothing new during the Edwin Rodriguez “era”.
Fast forward to the last month of my high school career.
I was at a graduation party for one of my friends, it was at the beach. I usually watch as many Marlins games as possible, but it was a close friend, and I could follow on my phone.
After injuries piled up for the now Miami Marlins at the time, Jose Fernandez was called up to make the start.
As I began to check my phone occasionally while sitting along the beach, I was noticing Jose’s success.
First inning, the Mets went 1-2-3. As we got into the 5th inning, the Mets still hadn’t scored,
and Jose was up to 8 strikeouts.
“This guy is pretty good,” I thought to myself. It was exciting. He had just come up from AA, where had only made one start. He honestly shouldn’t have been this good.
Steve Cishek ended up blowing the game in the 9th, but the fanbase as a whole had this overarching feeling that we may have something special on our hands.
Thinking back now, special was an understatement.
Jose went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year and finish third in the CY Young voting, as a 20 year old.
We all know the dominance he provided over the years after this, even after overcoming a devastating injury and being forced to get Tommy John Surgery.
“I’m gonna miss Jose,” I said to my friends in 2014. But he’ll be back.
He did come back, and in 2016 he returned to elite form. His 253 strikeouts saw him rise to a whole different level. He was becoming a future Hall of Fame talent in front of our eyes.
Last week, in his final start, in typical Jose fashion, he went 8 innings and recorded twelve strikeouts. We may not make the playoffs, but we have Jose. He IS the Marlins.
On Sunday, the Marlins game wasn’t as much on my mind as the Carolina Panthers game against the Vikings. The Marlins were fading, and I could just check if Miami won after the game.
I got a banging on my door to wake me up around 10 am. I was startled but just assumed it was a roommate who needed something.
I quickly looked at my phone and it looked like I had received about 30 texts.
I ran to my door and opened it in a still half-asleep state.
“Jose Fernandez died,” my roommate said.
My heart dropped. The half-asleep state made it feel surreal.
The mass amount of texts now made sense. People knew how much Jose’s presence for Miami meant to me.
Like many Marlins, and baseball fans in general that morning, I shed some tears. Of course I did. A 24 year old with so much talent and a love of life, with a child on the way, should not be taken away from the world.
But rather than focus on the obvious devastation, I want to remember Jose the way he would want us to.
I want to remember his pure joy of baseball.
I want to remember his passion for playing for Miami, a rare sight that was appreciated by the whole community.
I want to remember how dominant he was at home. 29-2 with a 1.49 ERA? That’s truly special.
But that’s what Jose was. He was special.
I want to remember that night my freshman year when I stayed up late in my little college apartment to watch him strike out 14 Braves in the most dominant performance I have ever seen.
I want to remember his pure bliss reaction of joy when Giancarlo Stanton hit homers.
I want to remember his bond with every teammate, and his hilarious interviews.
I want to remember how different the stadium atmosphere was on days he pitched. It was Jose Day.
I want to remember Jose and everything he brought to this world, because that is all we can do now, remember.
The devastation of never being able to see Jose pitch is miniscule to the devastation I feel for his grandmother, mother, wife, and future child.
He jumped in the ocean to save his mother on one of his four defection attempts. Life can be so cruel to then take him from this world in the same way, the ocean.
This is the worst sports tragedy of my lifetime so far, but I will vow to show my children how Jose played the game, approached life, and loved to be alive.
Rest in peace Jose. Goodbye, you were a Marlin for life, and forever in our hearts.
Thank you for everything, JF16.