Normally when I get a text from my former co-worker at the Moose Jaw Times-Herald and current Brandon Sun sports reporter Nathan Liewicki, it’s about one of three topics.
Either Nolan Patrick has done something amazing in a game for the Brandon Wheat Kings, a major event has happened in the college football world or Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez was having another spectacular outing on the mound.
So when I got a text from him early Sunday morning saying that I was ‘going to wake up to the worst news imaginable,’ I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to read on social media as Fernandez had died in a boating accident in Miami overnight.
In general, Sunday absolutely sucked if you’re a sports fan. Calgary Stampeders defensive back Mylan Hicks was shot and killed outside of a Calgary night club in the early morning hours and golfing legend Arnold Palmer passed away later in the day at the age of 87.
Out of all those deaths, however, the passing of Fernandez absolutely floored me.
Other than David Price, who I will also be a fan of for his key role in helping the Tampa Bay Rays reach the World Series in 2008, Fernandez was my favourite player in Major League Baseball.
There was so much to like about him. He had a boundless spirit that shined through even when he wasn’t playing, especially when he reacted to a home run by his teammate Giancarlo Stanton a few years ago like a kid in a candy store.
His journey to big league stardom was incredible. He tried to flee Cuba three times but was unsuccessful. Then on his fourth attempt at the age of 15, he dove into the water to save someone who had fallen in, only to realize upon saving the person that it was his own mother.
Then there were his performances as a pitcher, which were just getting better and better. With a blazing fastball and a devastating curveball in his arsenal, Fernandez was the National League rookie of the year in 2013 and bounced back in style from Tommy John surgery two years ago to compile a 16-8 record with a 2.86 earned run average and 253 strikeouts this season.
The pure excitement I had ahead of every outing of his is probably the closest I’ll ever feel in my lifetime to what it was like to watch Pedro Martinez pitch in his prime for the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox, as I was too young to appreciate that when it happened over a decade ago.
Martinez himself said on TBS Sunday afternoon that Fernandez was ‘a talent greater than I was and I can’t believe he’s gone.’
There are so many great young talents that are taken from us as fans far too early. St. Louis Cardinals hitting prospect Oscar Taveras and Maryland basketball star Len Bias immediately spring to mind as those who died just as their careers were beginning.
What this reminds me the most of though is the passing of Canadian racer Greg Moore, who was killed in an Indy Car race in 1999.
Moore, like Fernandez, was 24 years of age and had already shown glimpses of being one of if not the best open wheel driver in the world when he lost his life.
Whenever a young talent comes on the scene, we as fans are excited for their future and imagine them becoming one of the best in their sport.
So when you see someone come along like Fernandez, who was well on his way to creating his own legacy as one of the best pitchers of his era, it makes his tragic passing almost impossible to comprehend.
There are a number of full games up on YouTube that showcase just how awesome Fernandez was on the mound.
I plan to watch those games on multiple occasions in the years to come before I get the chance to see him pitch in person up in the heavens.
Godspeed Jose. You were destined for so much.