Heroes, too, are imperfect.
In another tragic twist to his death, Marlins pitcher and hometown superstar Jose Fernandez is showing us just how much that’s true.
He embodied the best of baseball and his adopted hometown of Miami. He had everything to live for: family, friends and fans who adored him, and a daughter growing in his girlfriend’s womb. But we’re now learning he lost it all in the aftermath of an impulsive, bad decision after he and two friends went boating while under the influence of alcohol. (On Saturday, a toxicology report showed there was also cocaine in Fernandez’s system).
Instead of getting a ride home from the downtown restaurant where Fernandez and friends Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero had been drinking, American Social Bar & Kitchen, they went out on a late-night spin on Fernandez’s 32-foot boat, the Kaught Looking.
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This is the point where we want to say — no, scream: Someone should have stopped them. They were all in their early 20s, young, in that stage in life where you feel nothing can hurt you. It’s not your turn. For their own good, somebody should’ve called police and kept them from boarding the boat docked on the Miami River behind the bar. Compared to the consequences, it might have only amounted to a minor scandal to be stopped and sent home — or to jail for the night in a police car.
At least he’d be here among us, for himself, for his family and his fans. And because of the kind of guy he was — a contributor to good causes — he might have owned up to being wrong and become the poster boy for what is so sorely needed in this town: A “don’t drink and drive a boat” campaign.
Let’s face some truth. South Florida is the deadliest place for boaters in Florida. According to a state report, Miami-Dade has the most boating accidents; Broward and Monroe counties tied for the most boating deaths in 2015. But despite the high-profile horror stories and the statistics, there’s too much complacency on this issue.
If the seas were treated with the respect they deserve, there would be more awareness that it’s just as deadly for a person commanding a boat to drink as it is for one driving a car. There would be more action in policing the waterways and more resources devoted to the task. Zero tolerance for boating under the influence of alcohol would be more than just a threat bandied about in time for the infamous Columbus Day Regatta, when about a thousand boats end up anchored side by side around Elliott Key and boaters party it up into the dawn hours and beyond. It’s boating debauchery as a cultural staple of life in Miami.
It’s time for a cultural shift to awareness of the perils of drinking while boating. Perhaps Fernandez’s celebrity status can help with that monumental task.
The bodies of Fernandez, 24, and his two companions in the Sept. 25 boating accident reeked of alcohol. The deaths are being investigated as a crime, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Miami Herald. Boating homicide while intoxicated and vessel homicide, the affidavit states.
The boat, the warrant says, was being driven at a high rate of speed with “recklessness” that was “exacerbated by the consumption of alcohol” before it slammed into the unlit Government Cut north jetty in the darkness of night. The driver hasn’t yet been identified and may never be, but the lessons should endure.
Fernandez’s life resonated beyond baseball because he embodied the Miami story, with his escape from Cuba’s hopelessness and oppression by sea and a life in exile of hard work and success.
Unfortunately, the drinking and boating, too, is so Miami, in the worst possible of ways.
It’s time, perhaps, to extend the roadside markers of car deaths to the sea that surrounds us. Boat drivers too should be reminded, when they come upon them, that they have the lives of others in their hands. Passengers should think twice about getting on a boat with a driver who has been drinking just like we’ve learned to turn down the ride on land.
In an open letter to fans published this week, Fernandez’s mother expressed her gratitude to a Miami that mourned his loss like the hometown hero he was, not only for his abilities on the mound but his contribution to the community and his devotion to fans.
“I’ve been sustained by your love of my son,” Maritza Fernandez wrote about these hardest of days. News of the investigation will no doubt add to her grief, and we’re sorry for that.
But Fernandez’s death also can serve, as his life did, a greater purpose by calling attention to how easily a pleasurable activity like boating can turn into a tragedy for three families.
May Fernandez always be remembered as the great baseball player and the joyful human being that he was. But let’s do more than hero worship. Let his tragic death be a lesson, too.