Jose Fernandez led a truly American life. The 24 year old pitcher died, along with two friends, in a boating accident on Sunday morning off the coast of Florida. The tributes and remembrances have been pouring in for the past few days. I have been following the story since it broke because I am a baseball fan and because I find parallels between the tragedy of his story and mine. The loss of someone so young, with such a bright future has struck a chord with me. I am captivated by the showings of griefs, seeing shades of my own sadness in theirs. More than once I have thought that this is what I must look like, they are feeling the same way I do.
Fernandez was an amazing pitcher. In his (unfortunately now only) two full seasons in the majors he proved himself to be one of the greatest young talents the game has ever seen. He still had a long way to go, but he was on track to become a hall of fame pitcher. Of greater significance, he represented the potential future of the game; a potential divergence from the obnoxious adherence to the 'unwritten rules of the game' that value 'grit' over talent. He was a breath of fresh air in a game that values retaliation at any appearance of having fun.
Fernandez was a joy to watch because he brought joy to the game. He was a kid a heart, having the time of his life getting paid to dominate a game at the highest level. To understand why he was able to find so much joy you need to understand where he came from.
Jose immigrated to the United States from Cuba at the age of 15. He braved bullets fired by the Cuban Coast Guard and 90 miles of open ocean on an overcrowded boat to get here. He tried and failed to get here three times before he succeeded. He was imprisoned by the Cuban government at least once for trying to defect. On his fourth, and ultimately successful, attempt to get to the US he rescued his own mother from drowning when she fell overboard. He heard that someone had fallen off the boat and he dove in to the water to save them. He did not know who it was when he jumped in. It was only after he pulled her out of the water that he realized that is was his own mother. After enduring the life and death journey to get here, Fernandez became a star. His ascension to the top of the sport was the gravy on an already amazing story. His life was complete before he became an ace. His life was already the American dream.
To get political with all of this, our culture has been so focused on the perceived dangers of immigration that we forget to focus on the individual stories. We jump to the ill informed conclusion that anyone coming her is somehow a criminal or undesirable hell-bent on taking our jobs. We forget to realize that the people coming here are exactly that, people. Each has their own story of adversity, of loss, and sometimes of heroism. Fernandez's story is exceptional in light of his tremendous success, but is not exceptional in that it is a truly American story of dreaming of a better life and doing everything possible to achieve it.
Jose Fernandez's life story is an inspirational tale, no doubt, but is not necessarily unique. I understand that there is a legal and an illegal way to get here, and that deference should be given to those who arrived here through the appropriate channels; but we cannot continue to make blanket judgements against those who came here using whatever means possible just because they hope for a better life. If you punish a person for dreaming a dream, don't expect them to thank or forgive you.
In the years ahead the Jose Fernandez story may fade, or it may persist like that of Roberto Clemente. In either case, we need to keep sight of the fact that his story is one of overcoming adversity. Even though it was cut short way to early, it is the story of an American dream realized.