THE 20-YEAR-OLD on the mound never pitched above High A, but there he was, making his Major League debut April 7, 2013.

He got the first three New York Mets he faced to fly out. The next three, he struck out. Four more and Jose Fernandez had retired the first 10 batters he faced in the big leagues.

Donovan Solano had a pretty good view, looking on from his spot at second base. The RailRiders infielder was in his second Major League season with the Marlins. He knew what he was watching.

“He was special. Inside and outside,” Solano said of Fernandez. “He was a guy … He’s got a lot of energy, whatever situation, whatever time.”

Jose Fernandez would’ve been 25 years old today. He died in a boating accident in September 2016.

“He was a guy who competed every day,” Solano said. “He was a leader inside the clubhouse, in the game. He was a great talent. A guy … every day (he) wanted to learn something and compete.”

Fernandez made 76 starts for the Marlins. Solano appeared in 21 of those games. He had three hits in Fernandez’s Major League debut.

Solano said Fernandez had the drive to be one of the bests. He loved baseball. Off the field, he treated others like they were special; like he had already met them.

Donovan Solano, left, helps Jose Fernandez wrap a towel around his arm during a game against Washington on July 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Solano remembers the day he heard Fernandez died. He was in Toronto with the Yankees. Someone told him the then 24-year-old was in a boating accident. Solano thought maybe he was hurt. Maybe he was in the hospital. What was he doing on a boat at that time of day, he wondered? He didn’t think Fernandez died.

One guy next to me, he tried to find what’s going on,” Solano said. “He showed me his Twitter: Jose died. I (couldn’t) say any more words. (It) was choking to me. Felt something my body, can’t describe.”

It’s still difficult for Solano to think Fernandez is gone. To think the superstar career path he was on ended so soon.

I still don’t believe it,” Solano said. “I see pictures, I see videos, I tell myself I can’t believe it, he’s not here. I’m not going to see him anymore.”


Top picture: Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, right, talks to teammate Donovan Solano in the dugout during a game April 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)