José Fernández was at the cusp of a meteoric career when his life was cut short, aged only 24, in a tragic boating accident off Miami Beach on Sept 25, 2016.
Known for his passionate, crowd-pleasing approach to the game and an ear-to-ear smile, he was the face of the Florida Marlins baseball team.
Through exclusive interviews with his friends and family, as well as the coaches who spotted and developed his talent both in Cuba and Florida, “JDF 16” tells the story of a scrappy kid from a poor barrio in Santa Clara, his hometown in Cuba, who became the Marlins Number One pitcher when he was 20.
The 46-minute documentary film, filmed in Cuba and Florida, provides an intimate portrait of a young pitcher who risked his life to flee Cuba by boat on a quest to play baseball in the Big Leagues. It will be released online Saturday, April 15 on UnivisionNoticias.com and on Univision Deportes TV at 12 a.m. EST.
Part One: 'Delfin'. Childhood in Cuba, defection
To his fans in Miami he was "José," but in Cuba his family and friends knew him as Delfin (his second given name), a restless, big-hearted kid with a contagious personality who never really grew up.
Raised by a devoted single mother, Maritza Gomez, and an adoring grandmother, Fernández’s short life was influenced by a series of substitute father figures, including several baseball coaches.
When he was just 15, and after three failed attempts, he and his mother were smuggled out of Cuba by boat.
Part Two: High School champ
Fernández was a star pitcher in high school in Tampa where he came under the tuition of Orlando Chinea, a legendary Cuban coach. Chinea says coaching a pitcher is like teaching lions to play chess with the poise of a ballet dancer.
Training was so intense Fernández barely had a social life but he did find time to fall in love with Alejandra Baleato, a young Uruguayan. They had much in common, arriving as teens in Florida, speaking no English and with close knit working class families struggling to make ends meet.
The marriage would not survive the stresses of being on the road in the Marlins Minor League system. Fernández found himself in a new world, with the prospect of enormous riches - and a new name. While he would remain Delfin to his family, from now on he would be known in public as José Fernández.
Part Three: Rookie sensation
In four seasons, interrupted by injury, he would rack up extraordinary numbers, earning Rookie of the Year in 2013 and playing in two All Star games.
Unbeknownst to all but his family and close friends, Fernández never turned his back on Cuba and frequently traveled home to see his friends and family, where he would go to cock fights, hit the dance floor, and visit the beach.
Part Four: Death at sea
Early in the morning of Sept. 25, 2016, a boat carrying José Fernández and two other young men crashed into a rocky jetty at the entrance to the port of Miami. The circumstances of the boating accident remain unclear. A toxicology report found alcohol and cocaine in Fernández's system.
His family and friends are still searching for answers. They hope he will be remembered more for the way he played than how he died.
SANTA CLARA, CUBA: Nelson Diaz, neighbor and former baseball player; Oscar Castillo, former little league coach; Yordan Gomez, Jose’s first cousin; Osmani Gomez, Jose’s uncle.
TAMPA: Orlando Chinea, former coach; Ralph Fernandez, Jose’s friend and attorney for Jose’s family; Ramon Jimenez, Jose’s stepfather; Sonia Celpa, family friend; Chuck Hernandez, former Marlins pitching coach; Alejandra Baleato, Jose’s ex-wife.
MIAMI: Dee Gordon, former Marlins team mate; Hugo ‘Juice’ Tandron, Marlins team barber and Jose’s friend; Maritza Gomez. Jose’s mother; Maria Arias, Jose’s girlfriend and mother of Penelope; Felo Ramirez, The Voice of the Marlins.
For more information contact Jose Zamora: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Univision Noticias and Univision Deportes production