Monday, November 20, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Friends, mentors remember Jose Fernandez's competitive spirit

RECOMMENDED READING


Of the hundreds of pitchers Tampa's Chuck Hernandez has worked with in 30-plus years of coaching in the minors and majors, Jose Fernandez was the one he was closest with, which made Sunday's news so staggering.

"I generally, throughout all the crazy time we've done this, been a relationship kind of guy with most of my players. And this guy was just a little farther ahead," Hernandez said Sunday. "Maybe it was because he needed it. Maybe I was more mature and adult-like, I don't know what it was. We had a special little bond. He didn't have, per se, a very strong male figure in his life. His dad wasn't around. So it was one of those things."

Fernandez, 24, was memorialized throughout the major leagues after his death in a boating accident early Sunday with moments of silence, words of praise, tears of sorrow, numbers and initials scrawled on caps, and jerseys with his No. 16 hung in several dugouts.

He was widely known throughout baseball for being a fierce competitor who openly showed his emotions and might have had more fun than anyone playing.

Hernandez saw that from the start as the pitching coach during Fernandez's 2013 rookie season with the Marlins.

"You know what he dug? He dug the most premier hitter on the other team to come to bat. That's what he loved," Hernandez said. "You know where most pitchers are like, 'I'm not giving that guy anything.' At times it could almost be his curse. We would be like, if there's eight other guys in this lineup that can't touch you, why do want to … ? But you can't stop him. You know what I mean? He wanted (Atlanta's) Freddie Freeman in his prime. He lived for those at-bats, those moments. That's what moved him.

"But in the end that's how the great ones roll, that's how they become great. They love the spotlight, they love the moment, they love the biggest challenge. That's what moved him. To strike me or you out and win a game 2-0, that was okay. But if he did it against (Yasiel) Puig or (Yoenis) Cespedes or Freeman or (Bryce) Harper, that's when you'd really see him turn it on. He was a special cat."

Former Marlins GM and manager Dan Jennings said he also had a unique, "almost fourth son," relationship with Fernandez.

"We used to joke, I asked him if he was reincarnated because he had a knowledge of the history of the game. He played with that passion. And the way he competed on the mound went without saying," said Jennings, now a Nationals executive. "He was one of the most competitive guys I've ever seen in 30 years. And he lived life with that same zest and passion. … You couldn't have a bad day around him."

Former Rays closer Danys Baez, retired and living in Miami, had become close in recent years and provided mentorship and life advice to Fernandez while sharing their bond as Cuban defectors and Tommy John surgery vets.

"We became really good friends, he was like my little brother," Baez said Sunday. "If you think he was a great pitcher like I know you think, that was not even 10 percent of the person that he was. He was one of the most amazing persons I ever met in my life. He was a 24-year-old kid with a 120-year-old heart. He was mature. He was amazing. A good guy, good friend, good family man. What he did for the game was nothing compared to what he did for the community, his family, his friends."

Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., a Jesuit High product who worked out with Fernandez — an Alonso alumnus — in their high school offseasons and remained friends, was among many big-leaguers struggling to process the news.

"I don't really understand why, I don't understand how something like that kind of happens," he told reporters in Houston. "I talked to him about two weeks ago actually, talking about the offseason, ironically enough going fishing, stuff like that."

In the Rays clubhouse at the Trop, former Marlin Logan Morrison was similarly numb.

"I felt like he was invincible," Morrison said. "That's probably why this doesn't feel real. Just the super amount of talent that he had, you don't find that everywhere."

McCullers said the infectious smile often seen on Fernandez's face was his true spirit.

"The epitome of how he kind of lived life," McCullers said. "It's awful that he's gone, but he lived every day he had to the fullest."

Times staff writer Roger Mooney contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com.

   
Comments
RHP Brent Honeywell among 6 set to be added to Rays 40-man roster

RHP Brent Honeywell among 6 set to be added to Rays 40-man roster

Top pitching prospect RHP Brent Honeywell and at least five others are set to be added to the Rays 40-man roster by tonight's 8 p.m. deadline, keeping them from being eligible for the Rule 5 draft.Honeywell, 22, had a solid season mostly at Triple-A ...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

After collecting intelligence at last week’s GM meetings, the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll.The question is how far they will go — how many players they deal, and how big of n...
Published: 11/18/17
Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

The Rays completed the reorganization of their coaching staff by giving Rocco Baldelli the title of major league field coordinator.In being promoted from first-base coach, Baldelli will implement ideas and information from the staff, while assisting ...
Published: 11/17/17
Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays were banking on pitcher Alex Cobb declining their one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer based on the lure of a longer-term and more lucrative deal elsewhere as a free agent.With that decision official Thursday, now the ...
Published: 11/16/17
Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

LAKE BUENA VISTA — MLB commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t want to talk Thursday about what might happen if the current effort to build the Rays a new stadium at the Ybor City site falls through."I’m more focused on working with the community to figure o...
Published: 11/16/17
A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

Here is a message from RHP Alex Cobb after he officially left the Rays Thursday in declining their one-year, $17.4-milllion qualifying offer to seek a bigger and longer pact elsewhere:"Getting to this point in my career is truly bittersweet."Twelve y...
Published: 11/16/17
UPDATE: Rays to gain draft pick for loss of free agent pitcher Alex Cobb

UPDATE: Rays to gain draft pick for loss of free agent pitcher Alex Cobb

UPDATE, 5:01: Cobb did not accept the offer by the deadline, as expected.DEVELOPING: Sometime before today's 5 p.m. deadline, the Rays will get official word that their $17.4-million slight gamble on Alex Cobb paid off.The Rays made the free-agent ri...
Published: 11/16/17
As he prepares to leave the Rays, how will you remember Alex Cobb?

As he prepares to leave the Rays, how will you remember Alex Cobb?

Presuming Alex Cobb declines the Rays’ one-year, $17.4-million qualifying offer by 5 p.m. today, he has pitched his last game for Tampa Bay.Cobb has received preliminary interest from "lots of teams" already, agent Dan Horwits said. The Cubs and Twin...
Published: 11/16/17
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says progress must continue on new stadium to keep Rays

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says progress must continue on new stadium to keep Rays

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made clear Thursday that identification of a site for a new Rays stadium is merely the first step for area leaders to show they want to keep the team long-term and that there needs to "consistent forward movement" on the ...
Published: 11/16/17
Sternberg: Tampa Bay Rays' share of new ballpark could be $150 million

Sternberg: Tampa Bay Rays' share of new ballpark could be $150 million

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Wednesday that the team is "genuinely excited" about the proposed Ybor City site for a new stadium and more than "cautiously optimistic" the project can be completed. But ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17