In memory: from Cuba with duende

Photo courtesy of MLB
Photo courtesy of MLB
Photo courtesy of MLB
Photo courtesy of MLB

The sports world is in mourning this week after the shocking death of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.

Fernandez, 24, and two friends died in a boating accident early Sunday morning. Their boat was traveling at top speed when it hit a jetty of rocks and flipped thirty feet in the air before landing upside down, according to multiple reports.

A Cuban defector, Fernandez attempted to reach the United States to pursue his dream of playing Major League Baseball four times before he was finally successful at age 15. Fernandez spent two months in a Cuban jail as a result of his attempts to escape the country.

On his fourth and final attempt, Fernandez’s mother fell overboard en route to Mexico. The 15-year-old boy dove into the surging waves to save her life.

Marlins TV and ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez put Fernandez’s endearing nature in perspective.

“When Jose’s mother fell off the boat, he didn’t know who it was,” Perez said. “He jumped. That’s who Jose was.”

Fernandez’s family settled in Tampa with his step-father. Four years later, the Miami Marlins selected him as the 14th overall pick in the MLB draft. Two years later, the kid with lightning in his arm and passion in his heart took baseball by storm. He was voted the 2013 Rookie of the Year and finished third in Cy Young voting.

Now, just three years later, baseball fans are left searching for the right words to commemorate his short, brilliant life. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said he remembers a player who brought a child-like love to the game every time he toed the rubber.

“When I think of Jose, I see such a little boy,” Mattingly said. “The way he played, there was just joy with him. You’d just see that little kid that you see when you watch kids play Little League. That’s the passion he felt about playing.”

The heat of Fernandez’s fastball and the bite of his breaker were matched only by the enthusiasm and charisma with which he lived his life.

There is a word, duende, in spanish that does not directly translate to English. In essence, duende means to have soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity.

Although there is no linguistic equivalent, we all know people with duende. These people are the lucky few human beings who maintain the same impassioned, childlike persona throughout their adult life.

Fernandez had that duende. It was his aura; that boyish exuberance that is a rare treasure among all human beings.    

Jose Fernandez died in the same waters that propelled his dreams. He will be missed by many who never knew him personally, because his personality had such gravitational pull.

Fernandez leaves behind a pregnant girlfriend, mother, grandmother, organization and fandom that loved him not for his breathtaking accomplishments on the mound, but simply for the width of his smile and his immeasurable love for life.  


Zach Joachim. Photo by Julie TrippZach Joachim

Zach is a junior pursuing a dual degree in print journalism and English. A proud Norfolk-ian, he enjoys long walks on the beach, English literature of the romantic period and anything pertaining to Harry Potter or baseball. Zach an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.


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