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For Miami Natives, Those Great Athletes Who Are Gone Are Not Forgotten

The tragic passing of José Fernández has devastated the nation, but for the Miami community, it’s another amazing athlete - and an even better person- taken from us too soon.

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

José Fernández’s story couldn’t have been any more Miami. A kid who unsuccessfully defected from Cuba three times, before finally making it to the United States on his fourth attempt, despite the fact that he had to save his mother who fell overboard. That boat he rode in on reached Mexico, and Fernández made it to Tampa, where his stepfather was living. There he shined as a high school star.

Fernández was drafted by the Marlins with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, and by 2013, he shook the baseball world. He would win a Rookie of The Year award, and became the poster boy for the predominately Cuban and Latino community in Miami. Everyone rooted for José. Dan Le Batard wrote a touching tribute for the Miami Herald, in which he shared the pain his mother had when hearing the news of Fernández’s untimely death. The 24-year-old shared a story with so many of the Cubans who had made it to Miami. He did it all with pride. He became a citizen. He was a great ambassador for the Latino sporting community, thanks in part to his bilingual capabilities. He always had a smile on his face. He was Miami: warm, full of passion, exciting and proud.

The loss of Fernández really struck a chord in all Miami natives. He gave fans a reason to come out to the ball park, even during some of the darkest times for the Marlins. He lit up the field - literally and metaphorically.

Native Miami and South Florida residents have learned how to deal with tragedy. I couldn’t believe the outpouring of grief from my Twitter followers who call South Florida home. I’ve learned in my short time writing for SOTU, that when you have fans from the Magic City behind you, you have a family behind you. Your successes on and off the field are all of our successes.

For me, I wanted to find something I could relate Fernández’s death to. It wasn’t hard. I immediately thought of the devastating deaths that affected both the Hurricanes and Miami Community: Al Blades, Sean Taylor, Bryan Pata and JoJo Nicolas. Like Fernández, these men were pillars in the Miami community. What Fernández did for the Latino community, these men did for the African American community in South Florida. What Fernández did for all sports fans in South Florida, these men did as well.

The way José drilled his first home run was reminiscent of the way Sean Taylor hit ball carriers: With a swagger, care free attitude, power and controlled violence. José hit that ball with a 4-1 lead over the Braves, and it cleared the benches. Sean laid out a punter in the Pro Bowl, a game known for hits softer than Charmin Ultra. These guys defined cool, calm and badass.

Sean and José now share the fact that they will never get the chance to raise their children and be the role models they wanted to be. Fernández shared a photo of his pregnant girlfriend days before his fatal accident. Taylor left behind a daughter that had helped him change his life for the better.

I'm so glad you came into my life. I'm ready for where this journey is gonna take us together. #familyfirst

A photo posted by Jose Fernandez (@jofez16) on

The deaths of Al Blades and former UM linebacker, Chris Campbell, where untimely like Fernández’s, and left many wondering, “What could have been?” for these stellar athletes. Both former Canes passed before Taylor, and it was a devastating hit for the Miami community.

Much like Bryan Pata’s tragic death, Fernández’s sparked an outpouring of emotional, amazing tributes from teammates. Remember when Pata’s former Canes teammates rallied around a banner of him? The tributes were moving. It’s similar to how José’s teammates decided to commemorate him by wearing his jersey, retiring his number and how other players - like Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Céspedes - taped tribute jerseys in their dugouts.

Fernández and his mother were Cuban immigrants. Although Pata himself wasn’t an immigrant, his mother Jeannette is a Haitian immigrant. Brian served a role as a positive example for Miami’s large Haitian community, much like José was a positive figure in the Cuban community.

JoJo Nicolas was taken from us too soon in 2014, when he died in a car accident. Fernández and Nicolas were both team leaders. JoJo was awarded the Melching Leadership Award during his senior season.

I don’t want this story to seem like I’m reaching to compare the late Marlin to these late Canes. They were all unique, amazing young men with different stories. They all shared one chapter in their stories that was similar: They played in a city that fit them best. They all played in a a city whose fans could relate to them. Whether it was the old Cuban abuela who might have seen pieces of her grandson in José Fernández, or the young African American boy who spent hot, humid nights practicing in youth football leagues to make it to The U like Taylor, Blades, Pata and Nicolas, they all related to these deceased stars. Even the fans who traveled from Broward and Palm Beach Counties to watch these stars could relate to them. If we could take on daily life tasks like these men took on their craft, we would all be successful.

We’ll never get back José Fernández, Sean Taylor, Al Blades, Bryan Pata and JoJo Nicolas. Miami natives have to admit they were spoiled to have these amazing humans in their own backyard. Sometimes, you just take it for granted. You think that cheering for these guys when they hit the field is enough. But, when tragedy strikes for these athletes, Miami natives do one thing better than any city does: They hurt. They cry. They reminisce, and they see a little bit of themselves in a person they won’t get back. For a city known for sun, fun and fast paced living, there’s a whole different side. There’s times when a community hurts, even on the sunniest of days. It’s happened to frequently for those call South Florida home, but instead of wallowing in the sorrow, Miami’s citizens commemorate, tribute and keep the memory of these amazing humans alive. So when the rest of the nation starts moving on, don’t let go of the loss just yet. You know better than anyone what these men meant to the community, and it’s hard to get that back.

RIP José Fernández. RIP Al Blades. RIP Sean Taylor. RIP Bryan Pata. RIP JoJo Nicolas.