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  1. Rays

Fennelly: Circumstances of Jose Fernandez's death make statue a bad idea

Associated Press
Associated Press
Published May 2, 2017

TAMPA

The Rays are in Miami tonight to play the Marlins. The Marlins will be at Tropicana Field on Wednesday.

It won't be the same.

Jose Fernandez won't be there.

Even that's not the same anymore.

There is still mourning over the loss of the former Alonso High and Marlins star pitcher, who died September in a boat accident.

It will always be a tragedy. But, after all the tears, there's more. A painful amount. An uncomfortable amount.

There was March, when a long investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission concluded that Fernandez, 24, was behind the wheel, operating the boat that smashed into a jetty last September off Miami Beach at 3 in the morning, doing more than 65 mph. Drunk and on cocaine.

Two other men, Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Macias, died with him. They had lives and dreams, too. Their families are suing Fernandez's estate.

How could Fernandez have been so dumb and reckless?

How can the Marlins proceed with plans to build a Fernandez statue at their stadium?

At the moment, I wouldn't build a thing.

I hate saying that. I hate writing that.

Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, the Fernandez family attorney, vows to fight the report.

"It's as flawed as the day is long," Ralph Fernandez said.

But the damage to Jose Fernandez's legacy is real. He could have been the face of baseball. Now he's a cautionary tale for the young and seemingly invincible.

All this will be running through my head as the Marlins return to the Trop. This was supposed to be fun, Jose back and having a blast. The last time Miami was here, last May, Fernandez intentionally hit the Rays mascot while warming up in the bullpen, chattered at the Rays dugout after escaping bases loaded and blew away the Rays with 12 strikeouts. What an audacious joy he was that day.

The report said Fernandez's DNA was found on the steering wheel and the throttle, and his fingerprint was lifted from the steering wheel. The previously released Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Office's toxicology report found Fernandez's blood alcohol level well over the legal limit and cocaine in his system. If he had survived the crash, he could have been charged with a crime.

A couple of months ago, I was talking with Orlando Chinea, Fernandez's private pitching coach for several years. Like Fernandez, Chinea escaped Castro's Cuba. Chinea thought of Fernandez.

"This didn't have to happen," Chinea said. "He should have watched over himself and his future. The Marlins should have watched over him. … I will always love Jose and never forget him, but he tossed away everything. A waste."

Ralph Fernandez said the report's conclusions will not hold up.

"I'm just asking everyone who loves Jose to stay by me, because this isn't over."

I'm trying to keep an open mind.

The Marlins should hold off on building a statue.

You can't build a monument to someone whose actions might have ended three lives.

I hate saying that. I hate writing that.

The Marlins will be here Wednesday.

It won't be the same. In so many ways.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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