Saturday, July 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

In Tampa, smiles mix with disbelief as Jose Fernandez is remembered

TAMPA — It was the day after. It still didn't seem real.

It was like that at the house in the Egypt Lake section of Tampa, where Jose Fernandez lived while he was in Tampa, and on the baseball field at Alonso High, where he was a star.

"It's hard to believe even now," longtime Alonso assistant baseball coach Pete Toledo said.

At the house, a comfortable four-bedroom home with a pool, Richard Ramos, a Fernandez relative, wanted to show you something.

He led you away from the floral arrangements and sympathy cards on the dining room table, Jose baseball action figures on either side of a burning candle with the image of Jesus on its holder.

Jose moved out when he became a professional in 2011. His old room became a guest room. It's filled with stuffed animals. A Cuban flag hangs on a wall.

Ramos led you to another bedroom, and Jose's old bedroom set. He pointed at the mirror. Jose had scribbled on it with a red crayon shortly after he arrived in Tampa in 2008.

99 mph

"That's what he said he was going to throw," Ramos said. "And he did. Jose had big dreams."

They ended in the dark on a jetty.

This was the house where Jose Fernandez came to live when he was 15, where he slept and dreamed of "playing with the big boys," as he told everyone, and being the best ever.

At Alonso, a message board in front read, "In Memory of Jose Fernandez. Fly High and Soar Proudly." The American flag in the school's courtyard had been lowered to half-staff. There will be a candlelight vigil on the baseball field at 7:30 Wednesday night. All are welcome.

This is the field where Jose Fernandez was a legend, where he blew batters away and hit monster home runs and threw in monster fun.

Alonso coach Landy Faedo stood on the field Monday and told you where Jose's career was going.

"Hall of Fame," Faedo said. "He's the best right-handed pitcher in baseball."

Present tense.

Fernandez was supposed to pitch Monday in Miami.

The day Jose Fernandez was drafted in 2011, they threw a party at the house, where Jose lived for five years with his stepfather, Ramon Jimenez, and Ramon's mother, Julia Fuentes, and Ramon's daughter, Yady, who was Jose's stepsister. They called Jose "Delfin," his middle name.

At his draft party, Jose jumped in the pool with his clothes on and told everybody to do the same.

"His dream had come true," Julia said through Richard.

Yady and Jose were very close. Yady, 22, was two years behind Jose at Alonso. They grew up together in Cuba. They were on the boat that escaped Cuba to Mexico in 2008 before coming to the U.S.

"It was hellish," Yady said by phone. "My mom was there with Jose's mom on the boat, too. It was a bad season, and the sea was kind of rough. (Jose) jumped in the water to save his mom. He was throwing up a lot on the trip, but he was funny. Jose always made me laugh, and he had that smile."

He stayed strong. He kept everyone strong.

Jared DeSantolo, a senior infielder for Alonso, stood on the field and remembered the name Fernandez.

"It means a lot in my household," DeSantolo said. "My brother, Shane Bishop, played here. He was a grade older than Jose. I watched them win a state championship. … They had a big dog pile. Jose was the last one on. He jumped on top of everyone. He almost did a back flip onto the pile. Insane."

Faedo mentioned the pigeons. Jose raised homing pigeons.

"Going to the state championship in '09. I asked Jose what was in the box. 'I'm going to let two pigeons out,' " he said. "We get to Bartow and he gives me one and he takes one and we toss them up. Jose told me they'll keep going up and going up and then find their way."

Yady Jimenez attends the University of Tampa. She plans on attending law school next fall.

"That's the plan," she said.

That's the dream.

The other one remains on Jose's bedroom mirror.

99 mph

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