Fernandez thankful for reunion with his grandmother
National League Rookie of the Year looking forward to special holiday season
MIAMI -- Sharing the crowning moment of his remarkable rookie year with loved ones reminds Jose Fernandez that he has so much to be thankful for this holiday season.
For all Fernandez accomplished on the field, nothing moved the Marlins' 21-year-old sensation more than reuniting with the woman who was such a big part of his upbringing.
Raised in Cuba, Thanksgiving is not a holiday that Fernandez celebrates in the traditional sense. But the 21-year-old rookie recognizes the importance of the day, and he is certainly counting his blessings.
When Fernandez was named National League Rookie of the Year on Nov. 11, he was flanked by his grandmother, Olga, and his mother, Maritza. The emotional moment was televised lived on MLB Network.
Since defecting from Cuba five years ago, Fernandez has lived in Tampa with his mother. But it had been years since he had seen his grandmother, although he constantly kept her in his thoughts. When speaking with the media, he regularly talked about his grandmother, and how much he missed her.
"Every time I talked to you guys, I would talk about my grandma, my grandma, my grandma," Fernandez said. "I wished she would be here. Now that she is here, it's still unbelievable."
For all that he's gone through in his personal journey to reaching the United States, and now becoming a rising big league star, Fernandez does his part to give back.
When the Marlins were home on Sundays, Fernandez set up a program through the organization where 10-15 neighborhood children were his invited guests. The children spent time before the game in the dugout with Fernandez.
Earlier this month, Fernandez received the MLBPA Players Choice Award as the National League's Outstanding Rookie. On behalf of Fernandez, the MLBPA's Players Trust made a $20,000 donation to the Live Like Bella Foundation for childhood cancer.
The Live Like Bella Foundation was founded in honor of Bella Rodriguez-Torres, a South Florida girl who battled cancer for six years before she passed away at age 10. During the season, the Marlins paid tribute to Bella at Marlins Park. Fernandez met members of her family, and was moved to do his part in assisting the foundation.
Traditionally, the Marlins have been active in the community during the holiday season. The club recently conducted its annual turkey distribution to local families in need on the West Plaza at Marlins Park.
Four players -- Adeiny Hechavarria, Ed Lucas, Henderson Alvarez and Tom Koehler -- took part in handing out 1,000 turkeys to families in need.
On the field, Fernandez gave everything he had, as he finished 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 28 starts. As an organization, the Marlins did their part to help Fernandez reunite with his grandmother.
The touching reunion was staged as a surprise by the Marlins. Team owner Jeffrey Loria was instrumental in making sure the legal channels were taken to obtain a visitation visa for Olga in time for the Rookie of the Year announcement. Olga arrived in Miami on Nov. 8, but it wasn't until two days later that she saw her grandson.
The Marlins swayed Fernandez to come to Miami for what the team called promotional interviews for the Rookie of the Year award.
Unaware of the real reason, Fernandez wasn't thrilled about heading to Miami.
"I had no idea," Fernandez said. "It was impossible to have an idea. I was there to do something for Rookie of the Year. They were like, 'You have to come to Miami.' I didn't want to go to Miami."
Actually, Fernandez was being interviewed for real.
MLB Productions was capturing the reunion, although Fernandez had no idea at the time. The segment has since aired on MLB.com and MLB Network. With the cameras rolling, Fernandez sat in the Marlins' clubhouse and talked about his tremendous season.
After answering several questions about his season, Fernandez was asked about his grandmother back in Cuba. If he could deliver her a message, what would it be?
"I started answering, and she walks through the door," Fernandez said.
Overcome by emotions, Fernandez simply froze.
"I was just sitting there. I didn't talk," the normally high-energy pitcher said. "I didn't move. I think my body stopped for a little while. I couldn't get up from the chair. Those who know me, know I talk. I talk a lot. But I couldn't move. I was in shock."
Olga showered her grandson with hugs and kisses. Minutes later, she was getting a tour of Marlins Park, and she even stepped on the mound where Fernandez enjoyed so much success.
The visitation visa is for five years, and it allows Olga to stay for 90 days before returning to Cuba. She will be allowed to travel back and forth under the perameters of the visa.
Fernandez is able to be with his grandmother for Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. The timing should also be right for her to be back in Miami for Opening Day.
"It will be nice for New Year's [Day]," Fernandez said. "We call each other that time of year."
As a child, Fernandez would stay with his grandmother while his mother worked.
"She was at all my games," Fernandez said. "She would fight with umpires. You will see her. She will be like, 'That was a strike!' She knows baseball. She knows the game. I can't describe to you how close we are."
In Miami and Tampa, Fernandez is showing his grandmother all of the places that are meaningful to him -- where he went to school, played ball, and his favorite places to eat.
"I want to thank Mr. Loria," said Fernandez, "and the people who made it possible."