Jose Fernandez was one of baseball’s resplendent talents, but he was way more than that, too.
It wasn’t just that he was one of baseball’s resplendent talents, although Jose Fernandez certainly was that.
His fastball routinely touched 97 mph. His slider was wicked, mid-80s, with a hard dip at home plate.
He broke bats and buckled knees, understanding the fear factor of facing someone who throws that hard and believes the inside portion of the plate belongs to him.
That’s the Jose Fernandez scouts first saw as a teenager in Tampa. He was the 14th pick of the 2011 Draft and threw his first big league pitch two years later at 20.
He made just 76 major league starts, averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings and compiling a 2.58 ERA. No player had a brighter future.
His death at 24 in a weekend boating accident in South Florida is a stunning punch in the gut, not just to his teammates and friends, but to an entire sport.
And yet, what a lot of people will remember is not his blazing fastball or the career arc he was on.
Instead, they’ll remember that he was a happy young man filled with energy and joy.
He liked people. The Marlins will tell you that they’ve had few players as engaged with community and fans.
He signed autographs endlessly. He made appearances routinely, in hospitals and clubs and all the rest.
After being named the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013, he showed up to do a couple of MLB Network hits during the General Manager Meetings.
What struck those on the set that day was not that he was so gracious about winning the award, but how when it was over, he went around the room thanking the cameramen and producers for their work.
It was a simple gesture, really, but it stood out, that this 20-year-old kid took the time to say thanks.
He’d had a hellish time escaping Cuba, and perhaps because of that, appreciated his new country and all its possibilities.
Once in the Marlins clubhouse, he excitedly approached reporters to show photos he’d taken at a concert the night before.
He appreciated the life that baseball had given him and was determined to soak up every last ounce of it.
He was so animated on the mound and had such raging competitive fires that he sometimes rubbed opponents the wrong way.
But even they would admit that it was a great experience to watch him pitch. He brought so much energy and emotion to the job that it was impossible not to feed off him.
From the moment he arrived in 2013, the Marlins could see a bright and shiny future built around Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton.
No team had two players with a more impressive combination of talent, personality and relentless work ethic.
These will be tough, tough days, this final week for the Marlins. Fernandez’s death hits every player, coach and manager in the sport because the one thing these people appreciate is the sheer talent and the thrill of watching the kid continue to build on his accomplishments.
But it’s a devastating blow to the Marlins. Teams are like families. For nine months, they live with one another and support one another and kid with one another and all the rest.
His death creates a huge hole, especially emotionally. He will be missed every fifth day because of the talent he took to the mound.
But his absence will be felt every single day when his laughter and his smile are no longer there, when teammates are forced to see his locker, his uniform.
The Marlins will have an off-season to deal with their loss and grief, but the healing will take a lot longer than that.
He was such a rare talent, such a captivating personality. There haven’t been many like him. He will not be forgotten.