Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria may be one of the more despised people in baseball and sports, but he had a special connection with the late Jose Fernandez, the ace pitcher of the Marlins who was killed in a tragic boat accident last September. You would not think Loria, a 76-year old billionaire, would have much in common with a Cuban-born 24-year old, but Loria says the two had a unique relationship.
In a sit-down interview with Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Loria shared a number of stories about the friendship the two unlikely baseball people developed and expressed how hard the passing of Fernandez was last September. In addition to learning new details about the interactions and experiences between the two, a different side of Loria is revealed. He is human after all. Loria has made a number of trips to Europe in the past (and could be making some more as a potential ambassador to France), but a trip to Italy was more of a chance to grieve after the death of Fernandez.
“I went to Europe to try and recover — not that you can recover,” Loria explained. “And I found myself walking down the Spanish steps in Rome and taking a walk down a side street and all of a sudden sitting down on a bench and crying my eyes out. People would come by and were wondering, “What’s the matter with you? Did something happen to you? Are you ill or something?” You can’t explain it to anybody. It’s one of those things you never forget. You just try to live with it.”
Players will always come and go in baseball, but Loria knew he had something special in Fernandez. Not only was Fernandez a highly talented player, he also had a charming personality. Loria saw that on a regular basis, and the two became good friends as time went by. Fernandez trusted Loria and respected his decisions so much, that the pitcher asked the owner of the Marlins to come help him pick out a car.
From time to time, he would call me and say, “I want to go out and buy a car. Come with me.” So I would go with him. It was one fast sports car after another, and I would dissuade him. One day I said, “If you’re gonna buy one of these cars, at least buy a car where if you have an accident, God forbid, you’ll be all right.” So we went and looked at some Bentleys. They were just a little bit too old-looking, too stodgy for him, but he ended up buying what I would call intelligent vehicles.
I would say, “Look, I have a Ferrari, and I’m going to sell it because I’m going to get killed on I-95 with that thing.” You’re riding on those very low cars, and you’re looking up, and you see the wheels of trucks right next to you, and they’re above your head. You see an accident every day on 95. Someone is killed every day in a motorcycle or a sports car.
There was nothing Fernandez wanted to take slowly, according to Loria. Loria said Fernandez saw great opportunity in the United States and wanted to do everything he could as soon as possible.
“He became a citizen in record time. He taught himself English in a year or two. If you heard him speaking, you would never know he wasn’t born here. His English was amazing. He was self-taught. He taught himself by reading comics, conversing, watching television all day long so he could get the nuances of the language. He was extremely bright.”
It would seem Loria was like a father-figure for Fernandez, and the bond between the two becomes clear as Loria shares his story in more detail. The impact Loria had on Fernandez’s life was significant, but it also seems as though Fernandez’s impact on Loria is valued as well.