Before he was an All Star, Rookie of the Year, or the guy whose joyful home run celebration against the Atlanta Braves went viral, Jose Fernandez was a local prep star leading Tampa’s Alonso Ravens to two state championships.
Fernandez fled Cuba as a teen in 2007 with his mother and sister, an ordeal that included jail time in Cuba and a difficult trip across the Gulf to Mexico, as he recounted in this 2009 profile and in even greater detail here. They eventually made their way to the Tampa area. Fernandez had played youth baseball in Cuba, and once here, his step-father settled the family in the Alonso school district so that Jose could train with their coach, a veteran of Cuban baseball.
In three years of varsity play, he pitched to a 1.35 ERA and slashed .373/417/.690. In his years at Alonso he also mastered English, transformed from a shy kid his sophomore year to player known for his exuberance along with his 97 mph fastball. His high school career was recognized when he become the Gatorade High School Baseball Player of the Year in 2011.
His high school career almost had a premature ending. Before his senior year, the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled him ineligible to play. Their rules state that students retain eligibility for four years once they begin ninth grade. Fernandez had started high school in Cuba, and lost a year as his family struggled to escape to the US and establish itself in Tampa. Upon appeal his eligibility was restored.
A USF commit, Fernandez chose to go pro when he was drafted in the middle of the first round in 2011. And not even two years after he received his high school diploma he was on the mound for the Miami Marlins.
In 2014, Alonso High School retired the # 16 he continued to wear throughout his career, as described in this Tribune story.
Rays players and coaches reflected on Fernandez’s life, and the team honored his memory in a pregame ceremony.
All of baseball mourns his passing. Here in the Tampa Bay there are no doubt friends, teammates and family for whom this loss is more personal.
From the Hillsborough School District:
Today we mourn the tragic loss of former Alonso Raven great Jose Fernandez. @HillsboroughSch @alonsohigh @FHSAA @Marlins @TBHomeTeam pic.twitter.com/TdNHWriEbg— HCPS Athletics (@HCPSAthletics) September 25, 2016
Fernandez and Lance McCullers were both Tampa area baseball stand-outs:
I am heartbroken right now... RIP my man, your kind heart and smile will never be forgotten... #RIPJoseFernandez pic.twitter.com/4pKC9EOeKI— Lance McCullers Jr. (@LMcCullers43) September 25, 2016