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Remembering Jose Fernandez and the All-Star Game that would have been

 
Miami Marlins general manager Mike Hill said there is "no question" that Alex Fernandez would have been the unofficial host for the All-Star Game activities this week in Miami. An investigation showed Fernandez had cocaine and alcohol in his system when he died in a boat crash last September. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Miami Marlins general manager Mike Hill said there is "no question" that Alex Fernandez would have been the unofficial host for the All-Star Game activities this week in Miami. An investigation showed Fernandez had cocaine and alcohol in his system when he died in a boat crash last September. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Published July 12, 2017

MIAMI — Jose Fernandez hadn't yet pitched in last year's All-Star Game in San Diego when he called over agent Scott Boras.

"I need to let you know something," Fernandez said. "My goal next year is I'm going to start that All-Star Game in Miami, and I'm going to work hard to do it."

There is little doubt this All-Star Game would have been Fernandez's stage, the Cuban-born, Tampa-schooled Marlins star welcoming the world to Miami.

Instead, there are only the memories, Fernandez dying last September in a boating accident a few miles from Marlins Park, a state report showing he was driving legally drunk, with cocaine in his system.

There is a memorial to Fernandez on a wall outside the stadium. His locker in the Marlins clubhouse is encased by glass. The Marlins wear a uniform patch with his No. 16. An in-game tribute was planned.

But none of that makes up for what would have been in Tuesday night's game.

"This was his stadium, this was his team, this was his city," said Astros All-Star Lance McCullers, who grew up in Tampa training with and playing against Fernandez.

"He definitely would have relished this stage. I have no doubt he would be starting this game."

Marlins general manager Mike Hill said there is "no question" how Fernandez would have been the unofficial host for the mid-summer Classic.

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"That's him," Hill said. "He was a big personality. That's what he was."

Fernandez was just 24 when he died, having pitched only four seasons in the majors, and missing parts of two as he recovered from Tommy John elbow surgery.

But there is so much talk of the impact he had on the game with his boyish enthusiasm, competitiveness and determination.

"What it took for him to get here and live out the quote-unquote American dream, I think people just really could relate to that," McCullers said at Monday's All-Star media session. "They lived through him. They lived through the way he played and how he pitched and the joy and the passion he brought.

"I think he spread that passion out in the community. People here love him, and there's a reason for that."

Boras, wearing a FERNANDEZ 16 lapel pin, said that was just how Fernandez was.

"He talked about that all the time," Boras said, fighting back some emotion. "He wanted to represent the city, his team and the Cuban community for his mother. So he worked, and he worked hard. There is nobody who performed at a higher level at the age he entered the league in.

"I never put anything past him. I said (at last year's All-Star Game), could we just kind of deal in the now, could we not look so far ahead. But he was always looking so far ahead, and it was hard to not. ...

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"You have to focus on the blessing and the time you have with him, but it's very hard not to think of what he could have meant to the community here, the franchise here, and to the game."

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As much as life and the game has gone on, Hill said Fernandez will always have a special place.

"We live with the memory every day," he said. "My office overlooks the memorial on the plaza. So for me, having drafted him and signed him and developed him and gotten him to the big leagues, you definitely miss him. You think about him a lot. We wear 16 on our chests to honor him and honor his memory.

"He's not coming back. We try to keep the memories that we have of him, cherish those and play the game the way he would have wanted us to."

Especially tonight.

In the All-Star Game that would have been his.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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