By: Kurt Snyder
My dad spent half of his career with the Tigers working in the Scouting department. So of course, he evaluated a lot of young talent. He found himself gravitating towards young catchers, mostly because he was one himself having spent time catching in the Cincinnati Reds farm system.
But as his career with the Tigers evolved, he grew to appreciate young pitchers. Guys who could throw hard. Guys who had “great stuff” as he would often put it.
And when a young, talented pitcher would struggle and fans would complain about his performance, he would invariably defend them by saying, “you never give up on a good arm.”
He loved to watch Nolan Ryan pitch but he had an affinity for the young pitchers who would arrive with so much promise, so much talent, whether they were Tiger prospects or not. Guys like Frank Tanana and Jack Morris and Roger Clemens. I guess it was his scouting background that stuck with him even after he began managing Tiger Stadium.
What he hated most was when some of these young prospects, with all the talent and all the potential in the world would get hurt; never recapturing the dominance they had displayed each time they pitched.
Mark Fidrych was one of those pitchers. It bothered Dad so much when Fidrych got hurt and never regained the magic he exhibited in that special year of 1976, when he won 19 games in a rookie season that included being chosen to start the All-Star Game for the American League.
Dad considered it such a waste for pitchers with so much talent to have their careers cut short due to injury. He loved the game so much. He loved watching players develop and become stars.
But I can’t imagine how Dad would have reacted to the news this week of the death of Jose Fernandez. He would have loved to watch him pitch. He would have loved his arm, his “stuff.” And he would have loved his story about how, after so many attempts to get to America, he finally made it.
Dad was a sucker for an emotional, feel-good story and Jose Fernandez certainly had that; a young phenom who only wanted to pitch in the big leagues. In America. Unfortunately and tragically, the storybook tale began in a boat and ended in a boat; an event that fans in Miami and all of baseball will never forget.
Being American League fans, we weren’t exposed much to the fun loving personality of Fernandez. And it was that personality which endeared him to his teammates, his manager, the entire Marlin organization, the city of Miami and all of baseball.
At just 24, his immense pitching talent and his light hearted personality made him one of the best pitchers and ambassadors for American baseball. The sky was the limit for this kid.
Baseball is an incredibly difficult sport. Dad always told us that to be able to hit a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. Especially when faced with a pitcher blessed enough to throw so hard and the ability to move the ball around like it was on a string. Jose Fernandez was that kind of pitcher; a repertoire consisting of an explosive fastball and what they called a “wipe out” curve or slider.
More than any other kind of game, Dad appreciated pitching duels the most, when pitchers were at their best and all their stuff was working. Their talents were on display. There was nothing like it in his eyes. When we would ask him about the best games he remembered, most featured tremendous pitching performances. They were the greatest memories of the game for him.
Even at just 24, Jose Fernandez had given baseball so many memories. He had impressed so many people, both with his talents and a big hearted and bubbly, full of life personality.
But he is now suddenly gone. Many people will suffer over his loss. All of baseball will suffer. He will be remembered eternally as the Marlins go on to retire his number. But he had so much left to give. To baseball and to people. What a horrible, horrible waste.