WHEN JOSE FERNANDEZ NEARLY BECAME A CINCINNATI RED
Like the rest of the baseball world on Sunday morning, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Jose Fernandez’s death. A hero among the Marlins community and an extremely talented pitcher who hadn’t yet enjoyed his best years, Jose was on his way to a Hall of Fame career. It’s still hard to think his death is real and not just a cruel online hoax. The Reds join the rest of the baseball world in mourning Jose Fernandez’ passing. Our hearts ache for Jose’s family, friends and fans as well as for the entire Marlins organization.
Despite having never met Jose Fernandez, I do have a “Jose Fernandez story.” At the conclusion of the Reds’ division-winning season of 2010, Joey Votto was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Joey was living in Sarasota at the time and the Reds had arranged for me to fly to Florida to accommodate the many media appearances and requests that were expected to pour in on the day of Votto’s MVP announcement. The plan was to hold all of Joey’s TV appearances live via satellite in his backyard, and all of his radio call-in interviews live via cell phone in his living room. Accompanying me on the trip was Reds Assistant General Manager Bob Miller. Bob had other business to attend to in the Sunshine State that day and it had nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance of the MVP announcement.
In October of 2010, just a month before Votto was named NL MVP, Reds Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Chris Buckley was in Jupiter, Florida scouting players participating in the World Wood Bat Association’s World Championship tournament. One of those players was a teenage pitcher, who on his fourth attempt, successfully defected from Cuba two years prior. The pitcher’s name was Jose Fernandez and he was on his way to winning the WWBA Championships’ most valuable pitcher award.
Fernandez would surely be one of the most sought-after players in the 2011 MLB draft but wouldn’t be great if, through unusual circumstances and very fine print he was eligible to sign right away? Buckley called Miller, who was known around the baseball world as a “rules guru,” and told him that Fernandez was declared ineligible by the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). Thirty minutes later, Miller called back with news that only the Cincinnati Reds were privy to – because he had used up all of his eligibility in 2010 and was deemed ineligible by the FHSAA, Jose Fernandez was considered, by rule, a “passed over player” in the ’10 draft and permitted to sign that day.
Fernandez defected Cuba, found himself in Mexico and eventually wound up as a superstar on the Braulio Alonso High School baseball team in Tampa, Florida . During this journey, he missed a year of academics and because of his age, now 18, his high school career was all but over. That is unless the FHSAA granted Fernandez another year of high school eligibility.
While I was at Casa Votto overseeing Joey’s media appearances, Miller and Buckley were waiting down the street from the hearing that would determine whether or not Jose Fernandez could play another year of high school baseball or possibly become a Cincinnati Red. Fernandez’s advisors were aware that if he were declared ineligible, the Reds were going to make him an immediate offer and sign him that day. Unfortunately for Reds fans, Fernandez was granted another year of high school eligibility, remained a prep and became the eventual 14th-overall selection in the 2011 draft. The rest is history.
Even though he never became a Red, I loved watching Jose Fernandez pitch. He had such great energy and wow, was he really good! The last time he pitched against the Reds, August 18 at GABP, he didn’t have his best stuff but everyone in the ballpark knew he was still something special. Below is the scorecard from that night (click on it to enlarge):