Before he was an MLB star, Jose Fernandez risked his life to escape Cuba

Early Sunday morning, Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and two others were killed in a boating accident in Miami. He was only 24, and Fernandez recently announced he was going to be a father. The Marlins have confirmed the news and canceled Sunday's game. It's a truly sad day for baseball and all of sports.

It is also a moment to remember that Fernandez's rise to the big leagues was truly meteoric and how he got there was even more remarkable. He was a first round pick in 2011, and after just one season in Single-A ball, he jumped to the majors and was instantly a Cy Young candidate. Fernandez has been one of the best pitchers in the world ever since.

Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident Sunday. USATSI

Long before he reached the big leagues, Fernandez escaped Cuba and risked his life to help others. He was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, and was jailed three times after failed defection attempts. "Being a traitor to Fidel Castro" was the charge each time. One prison stint lasted several months.

It wasn't until his fourth defection attempt in 2008, when he was 15, that Fernandez succeeded. While on a boat with others in the Gulf of Mexico, Fernandez jumped into the water in the darkness of night to save someone who had fallen overboard. He did not know that someone was his mother, but he jumped in anyway.

That's the kind of person Fernandez was. He was obviously a great baseball player, but he also put others first and did a lot of work in the community. For example:

After defecting, Fernandez and his mother joined his father -- Jose's father defected in 2005 -- and put down roots in Tampa. His baseball career began at Braulio Alonso High School after making the team following a tryout. Four years later he was a first round pick worthy of a $2 million bonus.

As great as he was on the field, Fernandez's greatest accomplishments came off the field. He was an icon in the Cuban community and an inspiration to countless others. For many, Fernandez's baseball career will be a footnote in his legacy. He'll be remembered as someone who went out of his way to help others, even if it meant risking his life.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for,,,... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories