Ruling goes way of Alonso's Fernandez
GAINESVILLE - Jose Fernandez could have just accepted the Florida High School Athletic Association's ruling on his eligibility and skipped his senior baseball season at Alonso. After all, he is verbally committed to South Florida and is expected to be a high draft pick in the June 2011 Major League Baseball first-year draft. But that's not what Fernandez wants. He wants to play for the team and school that helped him make the transition from life in Cuba to the United States. Sunday at the FHSAA Board of Directors appeals hearings, Fernandez moved a step closer to reaching his dream.Following a 42-minute hearing where his attorney Ralph E. Fernandez (no relation) cited numerous precedents, the board voted 11-4 to give the Alonso senior a chance to become eligible, provided he can produce the proper documentation. "I'm pleased," Ralph Fernandez said. "I was surprised how knowledgeable (the board) was with the case. This is my first time in front of them. You don't want to come in with overkill and have a personality conflict." At the end of the hearing, board member Darrell Don (athletic director at Orlando First Academy) proposed a motion, seconded by Okeechobee County superintendent Patricia Cooper, to allow the FHSAA staff to issue a waiver that would give Fernandez his eligibility provided he has acceptable documentation regarding entry into the United States. The motion was carried 11-4. Fernandez began high school in 2006 while living in Cuba. After he was caught trying to flee the Communist country during his sophomore year, he was returned but was not allowed to continue attending school and even spent some time in jail. When he finally made it to U.S. soil and enrolled at Alonso for the 2008-09 school year, he enrolled as a sophomore because he never completed the grade. The FHSAA determined Fernandez's eligibility expired at the end of last season. FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing explained the board needs some type of documents to substantiate the claim that Fernandez missed the 2007-08 school year in Cuba because of his attempts to flee the country. Once he can produce the documents, the appeals board gave Dearing permission to reinstate his eligibility immediately. "It's not going to be very difficult to get the documents (the FHSAA) wants," Ralph Fernandez said. "It would be difficult to get documentation of Jose's incarceration in Cuba because the Cuban government is never going to publish that they kept someone in confinement for no good reason. "But we can get other things that lead to that suggestion. We can get immigration documents that probably will indicate he was apprehended at sea and was detained. That will prove he was on a Coast Guard cutter and that may be enough." Fernandez had his case presented to the FHSAA Section 3 appeals committee in October and that panel voted 4-2 to uphold the ineligibility, forcing Alonso to bring the matter to the full FHSAA Board of Directors. As a junior, Fernandez, a right-handed pitcher, went 10-1 with a 0.87 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 721/3 innings pitched. He also hit .408 and led the team with five home runs and 29 RBIs.