There is a traditional Mexican folk song whose roots and history are woven deep into the Mexican culture and consciousness. It is a macabre song describing the wishes one person is leaving to another regarding how they want to be remembered in death. La Martiniana’s famous line is the following:
“No me llores, no, no me llores, no,
Porque si lloras yo peno,
En cambio si tú me cantas
Yo siempre vivo, yo nunca muero.”
Which roughly translates to:
“Don't cry for me, no, don't cry for me, no
Because if you cry, I will suffer
Instead, if you sing songs of my life
I will live forever and never die.”
Let me sing you the song of Jose Fernandez.
Cuban defection stories are filled with harrowing tales of bravery and valor. Traversing the 90 miles from Cuba to Florida comes with a lot of danger. If you get caught by the U.S. Coast Guard they send you back to Cuba and you go to prison. You can get caught by the Cuban government before the journey even begins and you can get shot during the attempt or get sent to prison. You can fall out of the boat and die by drowning or, rarely, attacked by sharks.
Jose Fernandez was born on July 31, 1992 in Santa Clara, Cuba. Four times he risked his life and prison time to leave Cuba and settle in the United States. Three times he failed and was sent to prison. On the fourth he famously jumped into the water to rescue someone who had fallen out of the boat and saved their life. That person turned out to be his mother.
The final performance of Jose Fernandez’s career was on September 20, where he went 8-3-0-0-0-12 against the first-place Nationals. He had an outstanding 2016 season; he will lead the league in strikeouts, posting a 34.3 percent strikeout rate in 182.1 innings. The performance was punctuated by a moment with Barry Bonds that did a good job summing up Fernandez the pitcher, and the person. He was confident to the point of being cocky, entertaining as hell, and so incredibly talented that a normally conservative franchise promoted him to the majors as a 19-year-old in 2013.
Fernandez was a beautiful person to watch on the mound for his talent, for his demeanor, and for his straight up fun factor. He threw 96-97 mph, with a bastard of a curveball, and a changeup that came around in a big way at the major-league level, but he was so much more than the sum of his pitches. Fernandez transcended whiff rates, ERAs, scouting grades. He transcended all of that because we already knew how good he was. He transcended on-field greatness because of the kind of person Fernandez was.
There will be a lot of Jose Fernandez stories shared on all sorts of mediums in the coming weeks and months, and for the most part they will all revolve around the joy and happiness he brought the normally morose and overly-serious baseball world. There was the time he outright lost his mind over the Giancarlo Stanton home run, or the time he told Evan Longoria he “didn’t need to hit home runs that far” after Longoria took him deep. Or the time Carlos Gonzalez and Fernandez had some fun after Gonzalez took him deep.
There will be some stories about his days as an amateur and how much personality he injected into his performances, and there will be some stories about his personal life and the work he did with Miami youth and the kind of inspiration he was as a person.
Fernandez is gone too soon, and it’s a testament to his life and career that he resonated so deeply with a wide array of people in a normally conservative sport. In the immediate aftermath of Fernandez’s death, former big leaguer and current ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez was asked to describe Fernandez's aura and personality, saying: