As good as Jose Fernandez is — and he proved in his opening day start for the Miami Marlins that he's darn good — sometimes you have to take a step back and remember that he's a 21-year-old from Cuba who left behind a different life six years ago to come to America and pursue baseball.
He's the reigning National League Rookie of the Year now, an immediate entrant into the Cy Young conversation this season, which is saying something considering he plays on what's projected as one of the worst teams in baseball.
Fernandez had a fantastic 2013 with a 12-6 record, a 2.19 ERA and 178 strikeouts (he was 20 years old at season's start, mind you). It was like a dream, except one thing — his grandmother, who he calls the most important woman in his life, wasn't there to share it with him. She was in Cuba for his entire rookie season, trying to catch what she could of her grandson's games on sketchy radio signals.
She came to the U.S. after last season, shortly after he won the NL rookie of the year. When she surprised him during an interview (video above), it was the first time Olga Fernandez had seen her grandson in six years. That was a good first half of the story, the second half came Monday when she watched her grandson pitch an MLB game for the first time.
Jose Fernandez, the second-year model, was as good as everybody expected, striking out nine is six innings, allowing just one run on five hits and reminding everyone that his arsenal of pitches is scary for someone his age. And the Marlins were better than expected, beating the Colorado Rockies 10-1.
Maritza Fernandez, Jose's mom, and his grandma were given matching jerseys before the game — one that said "Mama" and one that said "Abuela" (Spanish for grandmother). Afterward, they received loving embraces on the field from Fernandez — the man of the hour showering the women of his life with affection.
There's one detail that makes Fernandez's relationship with his grandmother even more special — she was his first baseball coach. From the Sun-Sentinel's Dave Hyde:
Baseball often is portrayed as a father-and-son game. But here is a Marlins star who owes everything to the women in his life who provided a cushion of love and the necessary guidance.
His mom, Maritza, always sat by his side, even on a harrowing journey on a raft from Cuba seven years ago. His grandma, Olga, was a force in his life, even coaching him in baseball from the first day he wanted to learn the game.
"I took him out in the yard," she said. "He swung a stick for a bat. This was when he was five. I taught him to hit. I taught him to throw.
When did she stop being his coach?
"Oh, no, I've never stopped being his coach," she said.
As any MLB hitter who has faced Fernandez will tell you, she did a stellar job.
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