Negron: Jose Fernandez- Like James Dean, Forever Young

Slater Fuchs is a young man that I have known since he was about six years old. Slater and his brother Nicky were adopted by the great Olympian shot put champion Jim Fuchs and his beautiful wife Anne, who was also an incredibly intelligent woman who started and headed several magazines including Town and Country and Vogue.

Jim Fuchs, Slater and Nicky with the Boss
Jim Fuchs, Slater and Nicky with the Boss

Jim, along with George Steinbrenner, started the Silver Shield Foundation to help the children of police officers killed in the line of duty. Jim, Ann, and Mr. Steinbrenner were so close that when the Fuchs’ adopted Nicky and Slater they asked the Boss to be the godfather, a position he took with great pride. The boys were always surrounded by great love and they could not have had better parents.

After Jim Fuchs passed away, every once in a while, Slater would ask me about how I felt about being adopted myself. On one particular day he had asked me, the Yankees were playing the Florida Marlins so I took Slater to meet the great young Marlin’s pitcher, Jose Fernandez. I had told Jose about Slater and the fact that he was adopted so Jose sat with Slater and told him that he came from a broken home and really only had his mom. He told him about how he got out of Cuba and several times almost died in his efforts to get to America.

Jose said that one thing that they both had in common was that Slater and Nicky were adopted by a great family and he (Jose) was adopted by a great country. The way Jose delivered the message impacted Slater in such a way that he could not wait to tell his mom about the experience and the wonderful message that he received and needed.

This morning my phone rang and it was Slater to inform me of the horrible news that José Fernandez had been killed in a speed boat accident. I felt horrible for baseball.  I felt horrible for the Fernandez family, and I felt horrible for Slater because he had grown to idolize Jose and now his hero was gone.  I am also happy for Slater because in meeting his hero he was not disappointed. This is a rare thing in this world. Most of the time you are better off not ever meeting your heroes as they sometimes tend to break a lot of hearts.

fullsizerenderIn the short time Jose shared his life with the world as a major-league baseball player all he did was give of himself off the field and extend his heart and soul to so many young people in Miami. That’s who I really feel sorry for.

Aroldis Chapman called me tonight from Chicago, with a heavy heart after he had closed the game, beating the Cardinals 3 to 1.  All he talked about was how shocked he was about Fernandez and what a great guy he was.  He told me about how the year before, Jose becoming an American citizen had influenced him to do the same thing. Chapman said that like Fernandez one of the greatest moments of his life was becoming an American citizen. At that moment he hung up, and I understood.

I also spoke with Luis Tiant, the former great Cuban pitcher with the most wins ever in the major leagues. Tiant had been crying. “I only met him once,” Luis said, “but I saw a beautiful person that was going to make baseball better. He was definitely going to get more wins than me when he was done.”  Tiant was a member of the 1979 Yankees when we lost Thurman Munson and like everyone on that team felt, the pain and tears were overwhelming. As Tiant would say he never really got over that. His heart goes to all of Jose’s teammates, his family and baseball fans in Miami and all over.

Myself, not knowing Fernandez very well yet witnessing Fernandez with young Slater Fuchs,  I can only imagine how many other “Slater’s” around the country Jose Fernandez influenced, yet sadly how many others will never get that chance now.

Anne Fuchs would say, “I am so sorry for my son Slater and all who are suffering and feeling his loss. If Jose were lucky enough to be adopted by a country and be surrounded by as much pure love, pride and admiration as Slater had been by his family than life has been very special. Too short, but still adored while he was here. With his comment to Slater,  clearly Jose understood and appreciated how his life changed so dramatically and how fortunate he had been.”

Like James Dean and Elvis and in the baseball universe, Thurman Munson and Roberto Clemente, the legend of Jose Fernandez will stay forever young!

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