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Star pitcher gets another chance to reach Miami after defecting from Cuba

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 03:59 PM
TAMPA -

Irony and life go hand-in-hand.

In January 2008, Jose Fernandez was on a small boat, roughly 10 miles off the coast of Miami when it was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Fernandez and his mom Maritza were sent back to Cuba and once there, Fernandez spent 15 days in an open-air prison cell and was labeled a traitor.

Monday night, Fernandez found out he was headed back to Miami.

On a satellite feed of the MLB Network inside the Fernandez home in northwest Tampa, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig delivered the serendipitous news.

"With the 14th selection of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft," Selig said, "the Florida Marlins select Jose Fernandez."

The room erupted in applause.

When asked about the irony, Fernandez couldn't hold back his smile.

"That's funny," Fernandez said, laughing, a sense of awe enveloping his tone. "It feels good. My family's going to be close, hopefully get my grandma over here."

She's the same grandmother he's called every Sunday since arriving in the United States in March 2008.

Fernandez, who went 13-1 with a 1.35 ERA and 134 strikeouts this season, leading Alonso to its second Class 6A title in three years, was the seventh pitcher taken in the draft.

"You guys know how hard I work out there," Fernandez said. "You guys know I'm a hard worker. … (The hard work) pays off. I wasn't thinking I was going 14th. I was thinking I was going 16th (to the Dodgers), that's my (jersey) number."

The Marlins have built a reputation of properly developing young talent, especially pitching.

"I come from the Yankee organization, which is a development organization. There are several developmental organizations that do a great job with getting talent and making (them) into big leaguers. The Marlins are one of them," said Rich Arena, one of Fernandez's advisers and director of scouting for Team One Management. "They feel confident in their ability to teach, they feel confident in their ability to get players and get them to the big leagues quick."

Orlando Chinea, Fernandez's pitching coach for the past three years, expects to see his pupil in a major-league uniform in no time.

"I think in two years he can pitch in Major League Baseball," said Chinea, who has worked with the likes of Livan Hernandez, Lou Fernandez and Rolando Arrojo. "He will be in Major League Baseball."

In three years at Alonso, Fernandez went 30-3 and struck out 314 batters.

"It didn't matter (where he went)," Alonso baseball coach Landy Faedo said. "If he cracks that lineup in the bigs, I don't care where it is, I'm going to go see it."

edaniels@tampatrib.com

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