When Scott Boras' cellphone buzzed at 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Sunday, 31 years of professional experience and a sports agent's intuition told him the news was probably grim. His instincts were validated when the phone flashed the name of Alex Morin, a Boras Corporation associate who was calling with the news that Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and two companions had been killed in a boating accident off the South Florida coast.
In the darkness of the the early morning, Boras instantly thought of another promising pitcher and client who met a tragic ending.
He thought of Nick Adenhart.
At 4:30 a.m. on April 9, 2009, Los Angeles Angels vice president Tim Mead reached Boras with an eerily similar call: Adenhart, a 22-year-old righty rated the organization's top prospect, was a few hours removed from throwing six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics when he and two friends were killed by a drunken driver in Fullerton, California. One minute, Boras was watching Adenhart and his father embrace outside the clubhouse. Several hours later, he was rushing to the hospital to grieve with the family.
Boras' experience with Adenhart would guide his actions moving forward. Macabre as this sounds, Boras maintains "in case of death" files for each client. Amid minuscule odds that the unthinkable might occur, he understands the importance of being prepared.
After receiving the call from Morin, Boras roused his staff, began exchanging texts and emails and booked a flight to Miami. He went through an exhaustive checklist on the plane and spent Monday in the company of Fernandez's mother, Maritza, and grandmother Olga.
"I learned through Nick that there are no stop signs in caring for families," Boras said. "After you get through the emotion of watching a grieving mother lose her son, you can sit down with her and say, 'Here's the file. Here are your choices. Here's the list of everything you have.' The family has a comfort level in knowing this is all taken care of."
"You don't want that baby to be left behind. At the end of the day, that little girl is going to be his one piece of blood and his legacy. If Jose could say one thing to us, it would probably be, 'Make sure my little girl is taken care of.'"Jeff Francoeur, Marlins outfielder
Most everything was taken care of for Jose Fernandez. Boras conducted an annual review with the pitcher over the summer, and the documents were in place to ensure that if anything happened to him, his entire estate would go to his mother, including a $1.05 million accidental death payment. "His designation of what he wanted to have done in the event of his death was clearly executed," Boras said. Fernandez had begun taking care of many of the details before learning several months ago that he was about to become a first-time father.
Yet even as he fulfilled his professional obligations, Boras was hard-pressed to find comfort. He endured several nights of fitful sleep before honoring Fernandez with a powerful eulogy on Thursday.
"His two most passionate places were on the water and on the mound," Boras told mourners at Fernandez's funeral. "Both represented his rights and the freedom he most coveted. Ironically the waters that brought Jose to us are the same waters that took him to a new freedom -- the high heavens."
FERNANDEZ'S BOUNDLESS TALENT leaves baseball historians wondering what he could have been. He won a Rookie of the Year award, made two All-Star teams and averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and he was laying the foundation for a Hall of Fame career at age 24.
The scores of fans who left flowers and handwritten notes for Fernandez at Marlins Park this week were a testament to his impact on South Florida's collective psyche. Fernandez naturally gravitated to children, and he was an icon among Cuban fans, who could relate to his escape from the island at age 15.
"When people came to watch him pitch, it's like they came to find freedom," said Marlins third baseman Martin Prado. "I know people in this country are free and have an opportunity to do whatever they want. But Jose performed and expressed himself in a different way than I've ever seen from a pitcher. To the Cuban and the Spanish communities, he represented all those people who wanted to come to this country and have the American dream."
Sunday's boat crash came during an eventful time in Fernandez's personal life. When Fernandez shared a recent Instagram post confirming that he would soon become a father, initial reports identified the woman in the photo as his fiancée, Carla Mendoza. It subsequently came to light that Fernandez and Mendoza broke up in April, and the mother-to-be is Maria Arias, a former college psychology major who reportedly became pregnant weeks after she and Fernandez began dating.
Numerous people in Fernandez's orbit had reservations about whether he was ready to settle down and get married or handle the responsibility of a long-term relationship. But Fernandez was all-in on fatherhood. He peppered veteran teammates for parental insights.
"We talked about it for the longest time down in the bar in Philly," said Marlins outfielder Jeff Francoeur. "He wanted to have a boy, and he found out he was having a girl, and he was in a panic. I have a 3½-year-old, and I told him, 'Having a girl is the greatest thing. She'll love you like no other.' Jose joked and said, 'What about when she turns 13?' And I told him, 'Well, then you might want to run as far as you can from it.'
"Anybody who knew Jose knows that he lived life hard -- not just baseball but everything else. That's why I so wanted him to meet his little girl. I really think it would have changed him a lot. When you have a kid, a lot of the selfish things go away. I think he was starting to understand that."
While Fernandez was rich in friends and ability, he had barely tapped the surface of his earnings potential. He made $2.8 million this season, and based on industry precedent, his salary would have increased to $11 million or thereabouts in 2017. If he had continued to stay healthy, he would have been a candidate for a $200 million-plus contract upon reaching free agency in late 2018.
With $6.5 million in career earnings, Fernandez was affluent by everyday standards, but he was still two years and 60 starts away from attaining Jay Gatsby -- or Clayton Kershaw -- caliber wealth.
Although Fernandez lived life at warp speed, he was relatively conservative with his spending habits. He bought his mother a house in Miami and a home for himself in Tampa but drove a loaner car and was not over the top with his clothing budget. His one extravagance was "Kaught Looking," the 32-foot SeaVee boat that Fernandez, Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivera were riding when it struck a jetty off Miami Beach early Sunday morning, killing all three upon impact.
As authorities investigate the accident and await the results of toxicology tests, Fernandez's estate is in line to receive a $1.05 million accidental death payment and $450,000 in life insurance through Major League Baseball's benefits package. Typically, players designate beneficiaries for these policies in conjunction with being placed on 40-man rosters. Boras said he was not at liberty to divulge the identity of Fernandez's beneficiary.
Teams routinely take out massive life insurance policies for players with nine-figure contracts, but insurance companies don't make gargantuan outlays based on projected future earnings. Fernandez received some ancillary money through marketing deals, Boras said, but he did not have a significant life insurance policy.
NOW THAT FERNANDEZ has been laid to rest, Boras and his firm have begun the process of setting up an unborn trust for the pitcher's daughter. Money generally cannot be bequeathed directly to an unborn child. Once the girl is born, the money in the trust would be administered by a trustee who is designated to ensure the funds are used for the benefit of the child.
Since Arias, the mother, is not a legal relative to Fernandez, she has no legal claim to assets. Boras said Fernandez 's personal savings, his house and other material possessions had been placed in a separate trust shared by him and his mother. Everything now belongs to Maritza Fernandez.
It's a virtual certainty the Marlins will be involved in contributing toward the trust for Fernandez's daughter. CEO Jeffrey Loria is often pilloried in the media for his baseball-related decisions, but several people who have worked for him describe him as extraordinarily generous behind the scenes. Club president David Samson said the Marlins have about "613 steps" they need to take to honor Fernandez. Finding a way to help support the pitcher's child is likely to rank near the top of the list.
"The Marlins did a great job so we can build a memory for that child. When she's old enough to understand, we can tell her, 'This is your father. This is who he was. This is how he was revered.'"Scott Boras
Marlins players have already shared their desire to contribute to the trust.
"You don't want that baby to be left behind," Francoeur said. "At the end of the day, that little girl is going to be his one piece of blood and his legacy. If Jose could say one thing to us, it would probably be, 'Make sure my little girl is taken care of.'"
Prado, who had become close enough to Fernandez that the family chose him to do a reading at Thursday's funeral, is convinced Fernandez would have taken the lead if any of his teammates ever needed help.
"I'm 100 percent sure that Jose would have done the same thing for us," Prado said.
As the Miami players move forward a day at a time, they continue to vent their emotions through laughter and tears. During an idle moment this week, Boras recalled how Fernandez, Dominican outfielder Marcell Ozuna and Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen -- his three big Marlins clients -- had formed an improbable friendship.
"We would go to lunch, and they would be speaking Mandarin, Spanish and whatever the three of them made up," Boras said. "They knew what each other was talking about. They taught each other all the cuss words in their respective languages. It was such a wonderful union."
When Fernandez's teammates kneeled at the mound and wrote messages to him in the dirt Monday night, it was among the most poignant moments of this or any other season. Several years from now, Fernandez's daughter will be able to look back and watch the video of Dee Gordon's home run, Giancarlo Stanton's tearful pregame speech and countless other displays of affection.
"The Marlins did a great job so we can build a memory for that child," Boras said. "When she's old enough to understand, we can tell her, 'This is your father. This is who he was. This is how he was revered.'"
The day after Fernandez learned he would become a father, Boras said, the pitcher ordered a baseball glove and wrote the name "Penelope" on it to his unborn daughter. Years from now, his Marlins teammates will continue to tell stories of his big heart and loving nature. Those memories will be the ultimate gift to the child Jose Fernandez never knew.