Miami Marlins had several links to Fidel Castro, Cuba

MIAMI — Some of the most important and impactful moments in the history of the Miami Marlins are


The news that Castro died late Friday at age 90 sent shockwaves through South Florida and brought back memories of major Marlins moments.

Exactly two months before the announcement of Castro’s death, Marlins Cuban-born pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a violent boat crash off Miami Beach at age 24 on Sept. 25. Fernandez had quickly endeared himself to South Florida’s Cuban-American community with his electrifying personality and uniquely Cuban story that so many could identify with.

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“Fernandez was an icon when it comes to talent in baseball,” said Cookie Rojas, who is a 77-year-old former MLB player born in Cuba. “He will be well remembered as a tremendous athlete. It’s a shame that he’s not back here with us, but that’s life. When you select a few players who were the best that ever came out of the island, I think he had everything in an athlete to be, if not the top, one of the top players from the island.”

Fernandez was born in Cuba, and arrived to the United States in 2008 at age 15 on his fourth attempt to leave the island controlled by Castro. When he finally made it to the United States on his fourth attempt, he saved his mother from drowning when she fell overboard.


From there, Fernandez turned into a coveted MLB prospect as a high school pitcher at Tampa-Alonso and was drafted by the Marlins in 2011.

Fernandez made his major-league debut in 2013 and was named National League Rookie of the Year. He posted a 38-17 record to go with a 2.58 ERA and 589 strikeouts in 471 1/3 innings for his career with the Marlins.

But Fernandez said “one of my important accomplishments” was becoming a U.S. citizen in 2015.

From being stuck in a country run by an oppressive communist government to living the American dream. That was Fernandez’s story and that’s the story of many Cuban-Americans.

It’s what made Fernandez’s death so hard for South Florida to accept. The area mourned the pitcher’s death for days, as Fernandez’s family held a public procession and viewing to give the community a chance to say goodbye.

“It hit everybody in the Cuban community,” Rojas said. “Not only because he had the kind of talent that he had – pitching, hitting, running, laughing and all that. But what he meant to the community, the way he went around and won so many games. He meant a hell of a lot to the Cuban people and baseball in general. He was a great kid with a laughing face all the time.”

Another iconic Marlins pitcher quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his Cuban story. Livan Hernandez defected from Cuba in 1995 and made his name known throughout Major League Baseball quickly.

Hernandez pitched for the Marlins from 1996-99. But his most memorable season came in 1997 when the Marlins won their first World Series championship.

“[Livan] meant a lot to the audience in Miami and baseball in general,” Rojas said. “Coming out of Cuba, he was one of the first players who got out. It just shows the kind of talent there is in Cuba when it comes to the athletes playing baseball.”

As a wide-eyed 22-year-old new to the United States, Hernandez was named the National League Championship Series MVP and World Series MVP. He was the winning pitcher in Game 1 and Game 5 of the 1997 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.

Hernandez’s mother, Miriam Carreras, used a six-month visa to visit the United States from Cuba to watch her son’s team play in Game 7.

One of the most memorable quotes in Marlins history came from Hernandez just minutes after winning the 1997 title. The rookie dropped to his knees and screamed “I love you, Miami!” with his thick accent as he received his World Series MVP trophy.

There’s another memorable quote in Marlins history that’s also connected to Cuba. Former Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said that he loved Castro in a Time Magazine article in 2012.

Guillen later apologized to the Cuban-American community and all Latin Americans, but it didn’t stop South Florida from protesting in response to his quote. The Marlins suspended Guillen for five games because of the comments and he was later fired after one season with the organization.

These are just some of the moments and stories that link the Marlins to South Florida’s Cuban-American population. Most of all, it’s the community’s love for baseball.

And on the weekend of Castro’s death, we are reminded of that.

“His death will be remembered by the Cuban community in Miami like you kept us out for so many years and finally you’re gone,” Rojas said. “So maybe pretty soon we can go back.”