Greg Cote

Love and regret: The complicated legacy of the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez takes another turn

The 46-page report indicating Jose Fernandez was driving the boat in the fatal crash that killed the Marlins’ ace pitcher and two others last year further complicates his legacy.
The 46-page report indicating Jose Fernandez was driving the boat in the fatal crash that killed the Marlins’ ace pitcher and two others last year further complicates his legacy. AP

The complicated, conflicted legacy of Jose Fernandez took another turn Thursday. It is a tragic saga that won’t stop looming over the coming Miami Marlins season in ways at once touching and troubling.

Nothing about this is easy.

READ MORE: Pitcher to blame for deadly boating crash, final report says

The latest development — that investigators have determined Jose was driving the boat that awful night — now becomes a part of the reality of a young man’s life and death.

Fernandez was responsible for his own demise and that of two buddies in that boat. That now has been officially declared.

Does it change nothing? Or might it change the way some consider the totality of his life’s story? Many will remember Jose only with love and bowed heads. But will others now softly shake their heads that none of this should ever have happened at all?

READ MORE: What happened in the final hours of Fernandez’s life

Many reading this surely wish the media would “let Jose rest in peace!” But is it not newsworthy — that Fernandez, with a .147 blood-alcohol level and a “noted presence” of cocaine in his system, was at the wheel that early morning when his 32-foot boat named Kaught Looking plowed exceeding 65 mph into sharp jetty rocks off Miami’s shoreline?

Like I said, nothing about this is easy.

Fernandez’s loved ones in South Florida include not only family but Marlins fans who grieved hard over that shocking late-September crash, and who still can hardly fathom that the team’s ace pitcher, only 24 years old, is really gone.

Do you ever totally get over something like that? Is there really such thing as complete closure?

Jesus Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, also died in the terrible wreck, and their loved ones hurt just as deeply, even though the headlines, good and bad, always starred Jose.

A noble goal is that we not allow the death, even with all of its terrible details, to overshadow Fernandez’s life.

That life was so remarkable, and the wonderful parts of it won’t change.

Arriving here by sea from Cuba in search of freedom, becoming a U.S. citizen — these things endeared him to Cuban Miami and made him a hero apart from what he would become in sports.

Oh, but what he would become was astounding! Not only a superstar pitcher but a competitor who exuded such joy to play the game he loved. It was infectious. Even on days when he was not pitching, he was a live cable of electricity that lighted the clubhouse and dugout.

His Marlins legacy in his brief career is the lesson he bequeathed his teammates. Star Giancarlo Stanton explained it during spring training before leaving to join Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

“Enjoy the moment,” Stanton described the way he has changed on account of Jose, “and understand this is the best time of my life — and have joy with it.”

That will always be real: the heroic journey from Cuba, the baseball stardom defined by passion, the reasons Marlins fans love Jose — and the present tense there is intended.

But real, too, is the 46-page report released Thursday by the investigating Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The report’s conclusion is stark and unequivocal. It is that “Fernandez operated the [boat] with his normal faculties impaired, in a reckless manner, in the darkness of night, in an area with known navigational hazards...”

In other words, his hand literally was on the wheel of his fate. He primarily caused his own death and those of two others, a conclusion that surely will weigh in the lawsuit previously filed by the families of the others who died. A statement from those families’ attorneys Thursday indicated hope for “an amicable settlement of the lawsuit … as swiftly as possible.”

Fernandez’s girlfriend, Maria Arias, delivered their child, Penelope, on Feb. 24. She will grow to learn all that made her father so beloved in Miami, all of the good. But surely she also will learn, in time, how and why his life ended so soon, and so tragically.

The daughter could not be blamed for feeling the same conflicting emotions that many Marlins fans must:

Love. And regret.

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