Tha Sports Junkies 101

Jose Fernandez: An Empty Locker and a Heavy Heart

Jose Ixcia torres/via Flickr


An Empty Locker and a Heavy Heart

When someone young passes away we often struggle to find meaning.  We struggle for the words to describe how we feel or to describe who the person was.  Anytime someone dies it is tragic to someone, but a young life lost seems to affect everyone.  I guess we see the potential they had, the end of someone’s dreams and we see ourselves in young death.  On Sunday Major League Baseball and all of America experienced one of the biggest tragedies that anyone could imagine.  Jose Fernandez was just 24 and full of so much life, but now that life has come to a tragic end.

On Sunday morning many of us woke to the news that Jose Fernandez was possibly killed in a boating accident.  Like many people my first thought was that it can’t be true.  I flipped to SportsCenter and back to the MLB Network looking for some sort of breaking news to confirm it.  At first there was nothing and I began to think it was a false report.  Unfortunately the news came shortly that Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez had been killed in a boating accident.  I felt sick inside to know that such a talented young man would have his life taken at the young age of 24.  To be honest I am not a Marlins fan and other than watching his amazing pitching I didn’t know the back story on Jose.  However, the deep sick feeling was still there.  Like I said there is something that deeply touches us all when someone dies so young.

I began to watch the coverage on the life of Fernandez and was amazed at the story of how Fernandez came to America.  Here was a young man who at age 15 and 3 previous attempts managed to escape from the communist grips of Cuba.  On the final and successful escape attempt he even saved his own mother from drowning after she was thrown overboard in the high-speed escape attempt.  Now to hear that he had lost his life right there in the ocean that had led him to freedom seemed to be the most bitter irony ever.  As I looked into more on Fernandez I found that this wasn’t some rich kid that had made a name for himself with a lightning arm, but a young man who had beaten all the odds that life had dealt him.  Here was a young man who truly appreciated everything in life and it showed in his personality.  One of my favorite quotes from Fernandez was one that showed a man who appreciated being an American and the freedoms he had.

“If you were born with freedom then you don’t know what freedom is really”

-Jose Fernandez-

Jose Fernandez was a man who understood what freedom truly meant and it showed in every aspect of how he played the game of baseball and how he lived life.  You could see the joy as he took the mound on every fifth day to pitch and on his days off as he was as big a fan in the dugout as any fan in the stands.  When many people were asked to describe Jose we kept hearing many of the same words.

“I see such a little boy in him with the way he played,” Manager Don Mattingly said while struggling to hold back tears. “There was just joy with him when he played, and when he pitched, and I think that’s what the guys would say, too.”

“As mad as he would make you with some of the stuff he would do, you just see that little kid you see when you watch kids play little league or something like that,” Mattingly added.  ” That’s the joy Jose played with and the passion he felt about playing.”

His teammates would echo much of what Manager Don Mattingly would say.

“I gave him the nickname Nino because he was just a young boy amongst men,” Said teammate Giancarlo Stanton.  “Yet those men could barely compete with him.  He had his own level, one that was changing the game.  EXTRAORDINARY, as a person before the player.  Yet still just a kid, who’s joy lit up the stadium more than lights could.  A kid whose time came too soon.  One that I will miss and never forget.  Rest in Peace Nino, Jose Fernandez.”


As many all across the game of baseball took time to mourn, we continued to hear the word Joy come up.  Anyone who had ever seen Jose pitch couldn’t deny that this guy had more passion for the game in his little finger than many will ever have.  Fernandez showed this youthful exuberance in other instances too.  Earlier this season as the Marlins faced the Braves in the first game ever played at a military facility, that joyed showed up in the pregame.  Buster Olney would tell a story of what the Fort Bragg pregame ceremony meant to Jose.


“I observed Jose watching the helicopters passing overhead, with his cellphone outstretched, taking it all in, and when the flag was lowered, he walked over to me, staring at what he recorded.” said Buster Olney

“Fernandez had been so moved by the day, standing in the outfield and signing autograph after autograph. As he made his way back to the dugout just before the game, Fernandez noticed someone extending a flag toward him from the stands — an 82nd Airborne Division flag — and asking him to autograph it. Fernandez asked the man if he could take the flag, and he walked it into the Marlins’ dugout and got every player, coach, and manager Don Mattingly to sign it, from Christian Yelich to Giancarlo Stanton.

Then he headed to the foul line for the anthem, for the helicopters.”

“I got the whole thing!” he said excitedly. This is the way he talked about everything, it seemed.”


You see to Jose, everything we take for granted in this country was amazing to him.  He was full of passion for life and passion for baseball.  Jose meant more to people than just the uniform he wore each day.  He was a symbol of success and hope for all the people of Cuba and the Cuban population of Miami.  He was a young man who never forgot where he came from and never took life or his talents for granted.  After Sundays game was cancelled the Marlins would take the field on Monday to face their Division Rival, the New York Mets.  This was a day that Jose Fernandez was scheduled to start.  This was a day that the people of Miami usually called “Jose Day”.  However, on this day Jose wasn’t showing up.  He wouldn’t make his scheduled start and his teammates would have to battle for him.

On Monday the Marlins would find themselves questioning why they were even there.  They would struggle with the emotions of playing a game without the pulse of their team taking the mound.

“I went numb in the moment,” teammate Giancarlo Stanton said. “A lot of us were talking about: “Why are we here right now?  What’s the main purpose of this?  How do we get through this together?’  I was just trying to ease all that and telling them we’re here for Jose, and for Jose’s fans.”

The Marlins would not disappoint the Jose fans on Monday.  Each player would wear the jersey that had the name and number of their fallen teammate on the back.  They would do this to honor Jose and no Marlin player will ever wear the number 16 again.  As leadoff hitter Dee Gordon stepped to the plate in the first inning, we would witness something that explains why this game had to be played.  Gordon who is a left-handed hitter would step to the plate as a right-handed hitter.  This was the side of the plate that Fernandez hit from.  He would take one pitch then switch helmets and sides of the plate.  He would take one more pitch and then send the next pitch he saw sailing into the seats.  It sailed over the scoreboard that had Fernandez and the number 16 lit up on it.  This was Dee Gordon’s first home run in over 300 at bats this season.  As Gordon rounded the bases he was overcome with emotions that many of us can only imagine.  He was met at the steps of the dugout by teammates as he wept and met the embrace of every teammate he met.

“First swing he took, and that’s the first ball he ever hit into the upper deck,” said Marlins Christian Yelich.  “If that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what does.”

In a gesture to recognize Jose Fernandez once again the Marlins banged their fists on the railing of the dugout just as Jose would have done if he were there.  The Marlins would go on to win Monday nights game by a score of 7-3 and they did it the way Jose would have loved.  They did it with pure passion, only not passion for the game, but passion for a life lost too soon.  Passion for a friend, teammate and to some more like a brother.  We know that Jose Fernandez will never take the mound again, but his legacy is the type that will carry on through the history of the game.

In the corner of the Marlins locker room stands Jose’s locker; preserved with his orange glove balanced on the corner of his nameplate, a purple rose tucked into the collar of his jersey.  These are just things to stand as a reminder to everyone that forever that empty locker is filled with the spirit of an amazing young man who left an impact on the game far bigger than he could have ever dreamed.  Marlins owner Jeffery Loria said this about the death of Fernandez:

“Sadly the brightest lights often extinguish the fastest.”

No one was brighter than #16 and its sad to say goodbye to such a bright light.

In 2015 Jose Fernandez tweeted these words:


“If you were given a book of the story of your life, would you read the end?”

The answer to that when it comes to Jose Fernandez is yes.

We just didn’t think the end would come so soon.




Key Largo Adventures/via Flickr