Sometimes it takes a truly tragic event to make us realize how lucky we all are. I was born into a upper class family, with two parents that supported me into a country that is widely considered the greatest country in the world. I go to a university here that most people don't dream of going to (whether that's due to tuition or its selectivity), have a solid group of friends across the continent who love and support me. My life is far from perfect, but to call it awful would be a stretch. I'm lucky.
Jose Fernandez wasn't. He was born in Cuba to by all accounts a family that loved and cared about him, but that's about it. He lived in a nation that suppresses freedom, and one that he tried to leave several times before succeeding at the age of 15. During the trip over to the states, his mother fell into the ocean. Unaware it was his mother but aware that somebody needed help, he dove into the ocean, risking something he had risked his life for several times and something we take for granted- freedom- to make sure that someone else could enjoy it too. When he got here, he pitched well at a high school in Tampa, was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and after jumping from low level A ball to the bigs in 2013, inspiring awe in everything he did, generating moments like this:
Moments that made you feel like a kid again and just made you smile. He won the rookie of the year, and inspired optimism for a franchise in Miami that doesn't exactly have a positive reputation with it's fans.
He blew out his arm the next year in the midst of another fabulous season, the dreaded Tommy John surgery that tends to wreck pitching careers. A lot of fans including myself worried that his career would've become a what-if scenario because of that. It wasn't.
He came back the year after and pitched spectacularly once again, continuing his exploits into this season (one where you could make the argument he should take home even posthumously the NL Cy Young award, for the top pitcher in the National League). The team he played for, the Marlins, continued to be muddled within mediocrity, and that combined with fan animosity for ownership (and with things like suing season ticket holders going on who could blame them?), has led to a mostly forgettable season down in Miami. Forgettable, other than when Fernandez took the mound.
If you follow the news, you likely heard that Fernandez died in a tragic boating accident early Sunday morning on Miami Beach at 24 when the boat he was on drove and collided with a jetty, and flipped, killing him on impact. If you follow baseball, you likely know he was one of the brightest young stars in the game today, and one who was likely by many accounts on his way to being one of the greatest to play the game.
It's tragic enough that a young star in the sport considered to be America's Pastime had his life taken from him far too soon. It's tragic that the city of Miami has to lose such a positive figure in the community, particularly within the vast Cuban community in the city (the All-Star game is scheduled to be in Miami next year, one can imagine Fernandez starting that game would've done wonders towards establishing newfound goodwill between the Marlins and the community). It's especially tragic that just earlier this week, he announced on Instagram that his wife was pregnant, leaving a kid to be raised by a single mom, never having met his or her father.
What makes this especially sad is the symbol of joy that Fernandez signified, especially for somebody who had to go through literal hell to get here. Look at this gif here:
That is Fernandez after a teammate game tying home run in 2013, for a Marlins team that was the one of the worst in baseball.
I wish I could be that happy about anything that happened to ME, let alone somebody else, at any point in my life. That'd be nice. Fernandez brought that on a daily basis not only to the game of baseball, but to everyone he met in his time here on this earth. He's someone who has always appreciated the little things, such as his family (don't watch this video if you're trying to avoid tearing up right now), and his community, and at all times he has given off the gleam of someone who truly is just happy to be here. Considering what he went through to get here, it would have been understandable for him to be bitter, soft-spoken, and filled with angst and regret towards many people. It speaks volumes not only of him, but of what we are capable of as humans that he was such a consistently joyful, exciting, positive figure instead.
Just before I got the text from my brother on Sunday that Fernandez had passed, I remember I was annoyed about the sun coming through my blinds and waking me up early. It was petty to be mad at that at any point in time, let alone in comparison to the circumstances of someone who likely would've done everything just to see the sun shine again. It's election time in America, and between all the negative publicity associated with this particular election is plenty of Americans trying to find their own personal version of the American dream. The American dream tends to be defined as the belief that if you work hard, anything is possible in this country, one that values freedom and integrity above all.
To say that Jose Fernandez represented the American dream is almost too obvious. He came here longing for freedom from an oppressive state, and succeeded after many attempts and plenty of tough times and hard work. He worked hard to not only become good at his profession, but enjoyed it, perhaps more than anybody has enjoyed anything at any point in history. He went through troubles along the way during his ascension to the top, yet overcame them, and arguably made him that much more special. He enjoyed being able to see his family, get up in the morning, go to work, and in general, was appreciative of the position he was put in by a nation that allowed him to follow his dreams. In other words, he enjoyed the things we take as a given, and his death, if anything should be taken from it, should teach us to accept the fact that all of us are lucky to be here. If this kid who went through literal hell to get where he was, only to have it taken away from him in a split second, can smile until the very end, we can learn to appreciate that no matter where we're from, how our day went, and what happened, as long as we are still here, we're lucky.
Rest in peace Jose, and through your joy and impact, may we never forget your short time on this Earth. I know I won't.