Former Marlins coach Chuck Hernandez reflects on Jose Fernandez
Of all the people who worked with Jose Fernandez during his pro baseball career, Tampa's Chuck Hernandez, who was his first pitching coach with the Marlins, had among the closest connections, which made Sunday's news so staggering.
"I still really can't talk about it, it's not registering yet,'' Hernandez said. "I generally throughout all the crazy time we've done this been a relationship kind of guy with most of my players. And this guy was just a little farther ahead. Maybe it was because he needed it. Maybe I was more mature and adult-like, I don't know what it was. We had a special little bond. He didn't have, per se, a very strong male figure in his life. His dad wasn't around. So it was one of those things.''
Fernandez was widely known across baseball for being a fierce competitor who showed his emotions and may have had more fun than anyone playing the game.
"Pretty much, I would say that to be true,'' Hernandez said. "You know what he dug? He dug the most premier hitter on the other team to come to bat. That's what he loved. You know what I mean?
"You know where most pitchers are like, I'm not giving that guy anything. At times it could almost be his curse. We would be like, if there's eight other guys in this lineup that can't touch you, why do want to ... ? But you can't stop him. You know what I mean? He wanted (Atlanta's) Freddie Freeman in his prime. He lived for those at-bats, those moments. That's what moved him.
"But in the end that's how the great ones roll, that's how they become great. They love the spotlight, they love the moment, they love the biggest challenge. That's what moved him. To strike me or you out and win a game 2-0 that was okay. But if he did it against (Yasiel) Puig or (Yoenis) Cespedes or Freeman or (Bryce) Harper, that's when you'd really see him turn it on.
"He was a special cat. And I knew it like the sixth start of his career. I knew physically who he was, that's about as good as it gets physically. But mentally I was blown away in that start (a one-hit, one-walk, nine-strikeout win over the Phillies).''
Hernandez, home in Tampa for a day from working as a coach in the Braves instructional league, got an early morning call from his son with the news.
"It wasn't confirmed, so I turned the TV on and I was like, "Oh, my God, you've got to be kidding me,' '' Hernandez said. "It's been a numbing day. I haven't really moved from my house. .... There's just no getting around it, it's going to take a while.''