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VIDEO: Rubio Honors Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez

Sep 27, 2016 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today spoke on the Senate floor and honored the life and legacy of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez
 
Earlier, Rubio and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a Senate resolution honoring Fernandez, who was killed in a tragic boating accident early Sunday morning along with two of his friends, Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero. The resolution highlights Fernandez’s inspirational journey to America, success in the MLB, and contributions to Florida.
 
His full speech can be watched here, and a downloadable broadcast quality version is available for TV stations here. A full transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below.
 
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Floor
Washington, D.C.
September 27, 2016
Watch on: YouTube | Facebook
 
I awoke on Sunday morning early to familiar news in Florida, that three boaters had lost their lives in an accident. And at the time, their names were not known. This is unfortunate. It happens quite often, especially at night and during this time of year. A couple of hours later as I was driving to church with my family early that morning, I got a text that I didn’t get to look at until we had parked. And it basically said that Jose Fernandez, the All-Star pitcher from the Miami Marlins, had lost his life in a boating accident, and immediately I was able to connect the two events realize that the three boaters who had lost their lives, one of them was Jose Fernandez and his two friends Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero.
 
His death at just 24 years of age has obviously devastated his family, but it’s also had an extraordinary impact on our community. It’s shaken obviously the Miami Marlins, the organization, and its fans. It’s rocked Tampa, Florida where he played in high school and South Florida communities where he lived and where he was just starting to make his mark. And it’s has had a deep impact on immigrant communities and, especially, the Cuban exile community in South Florida. And, of course, the entire baseball world and sporting world.
 
His talents were unquestionable, but he had only a brief but shining career in Major League Baseball. He had played for a year. The last two years had been injured, had come back and had an even better year than in 2013 when he was Rookie of the Year. He was obviously a young man who was headed to a distinguished career that I believe would have led to the Hall of Fame and perhaps along the way a couple of pennants.
 
But it’s interesting that his impact goes well beyond that you would think of a star baseball player. And you ask yourself ‘why did this young man who had been with us for just a brief moment lead to such an outpouring of grief from a community? Anywhere you go in Miami over the last 48 hours, it’s all anyone can talk about.
 
I think to understand it, you have to understand his story. I never met Jose Fernandez, and yet I feel if I knew him. And that’s how millions of people feel. They never met him, but they feel like they know him. They feel like they know him because his story, his family, his passion – it is, at the end, our story as Cuban-Americans, as Americans.
 
By now, most of the nation has seen tributes to Jose. They’ve seen commemorations, show footage of what he accomplished on the field and the way most baseball fans knew him: as Jose Fernandez, the dominant baseball player, the Tampa Alonso high school phenomenon who led them to two state titles, the first-round draft choice, the rookie of the year, the two-time All-Star. As a baseball player, quite frankly, there were few better than Jose Fernandez.
 
But off the field – as a human being, a son, a grandson, a teammate, a neighbor – I believe he was even better, from everything we know. He was born in Santa Clara, Cuba in a place where tree branches and rocks are what passes for Louisville Sluggers and Rawlings balls. He was drawn to the national sport of Cuba. He would spent countless hours swinging branches at rocks he had collected, dreaming of the day his talents could and would take him somewhere else. Thanks to sacrifices by his mother, who would take him to the ballpark so he could play youth baseball, he started to demonstrate a special talent at a young age.
 
And by the time he was a teenager, like more than a million Cubans during the past 50 years, Jose faced a difficult choice. His stepfather, a baseball player in his own right, had defected after 13 attempts and had made a life for himself in Tampa. Now Jose could stay in Cuba – a place that to this day is still ruled by a despotic regime, where your talent and your work can only take you as far as unelected dictators say you can go. Or he could risk it all for the chance at freedom. And he risked it. Not once but on four separate occasions.
 
So desperate was he to leave that island that he took his chances crossing the Florida Straits on boats that probably had no business being more than a few miles offshore. Three times he tried and three times he failed. After his third attempt, the Cuban government put him in prison for two months. He was 14 years of age at the time. And he was placed in a prison and in a cell with hardened criminals, murderers. A boy among the worst.
 
Then came a fourth try. But instead of a short and treacherous journey to Miami, they chose a longer and more dangerous journey to Mexico. At one point during that fourth journey, on a boat being tossed by crashing waves and high seas, he heard a splash. And he saw someone in the water thrashing about 60 feet away from the boat. He didn’t know who it was and without thinking he jumped in to save that person. It was once he got close that person in the water that he realized the person who had fallen overboard was his mother. He recalled swimming towards her, watching her struggle in the rough seas. He finally reached her. He calmed her. He told her, ‘Grab my back, but don’t push me down. Let’s go slow and we’ll make it.’ She held his left shoulder with his right arm, by the way his pitching arm, he paddled. He swam 15 minutes back to the boat in waves he later described as ‘stupid big’ and he pulled himself and his mother to safety. Jose was 15 years old. Before America ever met Jose Fernandez, before his fastball earned him millions of dollars and countless fans, in the middle of the night and rough seas and  against all odds at just 15 years of age, this young man that Jose Fernandez was revealing himself to be.
 
But as he would later tell us the hardest part of his life was still yet to come. For like so many immigrants, my parents included, his first years here were difficult. He struggled when he first arrived, feeling overwhelmed by his new surroundings and his new language. He was helpless and alone and missing his family, especially his grandmother who he once called ‘the love of my life, she’s my everything.’ He said it was the toughest period of his young life, tougher even than the time he spent in a Cuban prison after trying to defect. But he overcame and eventually he came into his own. He was a star on the high school diamond in Tampa and scouts back then took notice. Before the 2011 draft, Major League Baseball released their scouting report on him. He got high marks for his athletic abilities. But what set him apart was how he was rated when it came to his poise, instinct, and aggressiveness. The notes on the official scouting report read ‘Exudes confidence, no fear approach.’
 
This was not cockiness or arrogance. It was the kind of peaceful self-assurance that comes from a kid who had known life and death, who had known freedom and captivity, and who had lived more life in 19 years than a kid his age should have to. He finally reached the major leagues with the Marlins and right away you saw a young man blessed with Hall of Fame talent, a blue-collar work ethic, who played the game with energy and enthusiasm of a boy who understood and appreciated just how blessed he was.
 
But one of Jose’s proudest accomplishments, in fact he said his proudest, was not on the diamond. And we know this because he told us. Last year, Jose became an American citizen. And afterward he said, ‘this one is my most important accomplishment. I am an American citizen now. I am one of them. I consider myself now to be free. I thank this amazing country for giving me the opportunity to go to school here and learn the language and pitch in the major leagues. It is on honor to be a part of this country and I respect it so much.’
 
Jose knew. He knew how special and fortunate and blessed he was and we are. He knew how improbable his journey was from the rocks and branches in Santa Clara to the brightest lights of ‘The Show’. From a Cuban prisoner to a Major League clubhouse, from living in a communist nightmare to living the American Dream. And this is why his death has hit so many so hard. Because Jose’s story was our story. Because he reminds so many in my community of someone they know – of a brother, or of a son, of a nephew.
 
Jose represented not just all of us who were fortunate to live our own American Dream, he represents countless others who never made it – the ones who lie in unmarked graves along the Florida Straits, who died in political prisons in Cuba, who sent their children to America hoping to join them later only never to see them again, who long ago gave up hope that life in Cuba could ever return to what it was. But have found new hope and joy and gratitude in this: the greatest country the world has ever known.
 
We loved him just a little more and took more pride in him than most, but Jose didn’t just belong to Cuban-Americans. A young man from Santa Clara, Cuba, playing America’s pastime in a truly unique American city on a team with players from Taiwan and Venezuela and Japan and the Dominican Republic, and Mobile, Alabama, and Panorama, California. Jose Fernandez was the pride of Miami, but he belonged to every fan who loved to watch him pitch. When Miami saw Jose on the mound, they saw more than just a great athlete. They saw their hopes and dreams and aspirations, all we are and all we could be. And we said to ourselves, “This is what the American Dream looks like. And, boy, is the American Dream alive and well.”
 
This young man meant a lot to a lot of us for different reasons and in different ways. And now just as quickly as he came into our lives, just as he was coming into his own, and really, starting to fulfill his athletic potential, and just as we were really getting to know him, he is gone.
 
In their moment of unimaginable grief, I want to thank his family for bringing him into this world, for raising him despite difficult obstacles to become the man he was, and for encouraging Jose to never give up in the search for freedom, a freedom that eventually allowed him to share his many gifts with us on and off the field.
 
Jose Fernandez made Tampa’s Alonso High better. He made the Miami Marlins better. He made all of baseball better. He made Miami and Tampa better. In the way he lived his life, he reminded us of how blessed we are to live in this, the greatest nation on Earth. My friends, that’s not bad for a 24-year-old kid from Santa Clara, Cuba.