KC Royals players Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales were hit particularly hard by news of Miami All-Star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death on Sunday morning.
News came Sunday that the 24-year-old Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident early in the AM on Sunday morning in Miami. The young Cuban star defected to the United States when he was a teenager, after three failed attempts. He succeeded on his fourth try, but had to rescue his mother from drowning after she fell off the boat on their way to Mexico.
Fernandez then went on to play high school baseball in Miami and the Marlins selected him no. 14 overall in the 2011 June draft (the same year the KC Royals took Bubba Starling no. 5 overall). Fernandez rapidly rose through the Miami system, making his major-league debut in 2013 at age 20. He made the NL All-Star team that season, and also in 2016. Fernandez was 38-17 with a 2.58 ERA in four big league seasons, including an outstanding 16-8, 2.86 ERA in 2016.
He was a player with Hall-Of-Fame potential.
His story particularly resonated with KC Royals players Eric Hosmer and designated hitter Kendrys Morales because both are share Cuban descent with Fernandez. Hosmer grew up in Miami, but Morales shares a similar defection story with Fernandez. Cuban authorities put both players in jail after multiple defections attempts before finally fleeing. In Morales’ case, the 32-year-old designated hitter failed 12 times before escaping Havana on a rowboat in 2004.
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Morales told Kansas City Star beat writer Rustin Dodd through interpreter Pete Grifol:
"“For anybody that leaves Cuba, it’s not easy to leave your family behind and come over here,” said Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Morales. “But he wants to send his condolences to the family.”“It’s a very sad day,” Grifol said, translating for Morales. “And even sadder when it’s just from one day to the next. One day he’s here, the next day he’s not.”"
Eric Hosmer met Jose Fernandez this summer when both played in the All-Star game in San Diego. Hosmer singled off Fernandez in the game, but the two became friends during the weekend:
"“We hung out in San Diego this year,” Hosmer said. “We saw him back in Florida when we were down there for the season. It’s extremely sad. I had gotten to know him in San Diego for those couple days out there in the All-Star Game.”"
Hosmer also posted this message to his Twiter account:
The Jose Fernandez tragedy will remind many older baseball fans of the speed-boat accident that killed Cleveland Indians pitchers Tim Crews (31) and Steve Olin (27) on March 22, 1993. Their boat slammed into an unlit pier on LIttle Lake Nellie near Clermont, Florida during an off day during spring training.
Bob Ojeda (35) was also in the boat. Indians strength and conditioning coach Fernando Montes and Crews’ neighbor Perry Brigmond were on the shore.
Sunday’s horrific news helps put any disappointment that KC Royals players, and fans, might have at failing to qualify for the 2016 playoffs in perspective.