Sept 25, 2016, was the worst day in Miami Marlins baseball. It was the day the team and the organization lost Jose Fernandez and the innocence of the game.
The Marlins have not been the same since the loss of pitcher Jose Fernandez. Its been three years since the organization and the baseball community lost one of the best rising pitchers of this era. With it, a franchise has since redefined itself with new players and a new outlook on its future.
Sept. 25, 2016, will forever be known as the worst day in Miami Marlins history.
It was the first season of the Don Mattingly era in South Florida. It was the last time this ball club, with future National League MVPs in Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, were in a playoff race. It was the last time baseball really mattered. Nothing to take away from the season Stanton had the next season, with 59 home runs before being traded to the Yankees. Fernandez had more impact on the city of Miami than a flirtation with baseball history.
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As it has been said, Fernandez’s death is still fresh on everyone’s mind in Miami. It’s a hangover we as fans haven’t gotten over yet. And to a certain degree, it was the beginning of the end of the old Marlins as we knew them before Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman bought the franchise. Now, they are vivid memories in a short window of time.
"“The date Sept. 25, 2016, stands alone in Miami Marlins history. It was in the wee hours of the morning off the Florida coastline that star pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in the crash of the light boat he piloted,” Barry Bloom wrote for Forbes.com back in May.“In many ways, the Cuban-born Fernandez was the heart and soul of the Miami franchise both from a marketing and baseball operations perspective. He was 24 and the club was planning to build around him for years.”"
Jeter, as part of this plan to reinvent baseball in Miami, has tried to improve relations with the baseball community, deciding on new, rich colors and a link to the Hispanic and Latino communities. He’s signed Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa, Jr. from Cuba to help in the transition. He has relied on the connection from other players such as Sandy Alcantara who is from the Dominican Republic and Tayron Guerrero, a native of Columbia, to bring fans to the ballpark.
The marketing campaign is still a work in progress. Winning would help solve the issue of fans making an appearance in the empty seats at Marlins Park. Attendance just hovered over 10,000 fans this season for the second year in a row.
When Fernandez took the mound, it was a must-see event. Such promise. Such dominance. Now such a loss. Even four months later, Bloom’s words hold true.
"“Even under the stewardship of new owners, including former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, the death has had a long shadow,” Bloom adds. “Not even three years later, it continues to have its impact during another in a long succession of rebuilding projects.”"
Mattingly recalls his time with Fernandez, which was short but memorable.
"“He was that ace that you could rely on and build around… When I came over I think we looked at it that there was a good window of players that could go with him, that we could just build around him. It just turned everything upside down.”"
Something the Marlins could not recover from and in the wake of former owner Jeffrey Loria looking to unload the albatross that he helped damage, the layers to this organization came apart.
Fernandez was having his best season, 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA in 29 starts, 253 strikeouts in 182 1/3 innings. He had a legitimate shot at the MVP and the Cy Young Award. He was the reason baseball mattered in Miami.
There will never be another player to capture the community, with a smile that was contagious and the playfulness of a man playing a child’s game.
The Marlins may recover enough to contend for a playoff berth in two seasons, but it won’t be the same. The players of the last playoff run are gone. The personalities replaced. We sit on this day and reflect on what could have been and remain thankful for having Fernandez around, if only for a short time.
He made Marlins baseball fun to watch once again.