MIAMI -- Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, is no stranger to the spotlight or being the center of attention. But on Friday morning, one of the top young pitchers in the game experienced butterflies speaking to an audience of a couple of hundred people.
Fernandez was the keynote speaker at his own ceremony where he became a United States citizen.
The Cuban-born Fernandez was one of 141 who became American citizens at the Kendall Field Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"I was a little bit nervous," Fernandez said. "I actually thought I was going to be a little more nervous, but it wasn't that bad."
Fernandez will turn 23 on July 31. The hard-throwing right-hander successfully defected to the United States in 2008, where he settled in Tampa. He was the Marlins' first-round pick in 2011, and two years later broke into the big leagues at age 20.
Fernandez became an All-Star and Rookie of the Year in his first big league season.
In May of last year, Fernandez sustained a right elbow ligament tear, which required Tommy John surgery. His estimated return is either mid-June to mid-July.
One of the hardest workers on the team, Fernandez dedicated himself to taking the necessary steps to become a U.S. citizen.
"It was really important," he said. "My mom did it a year ago, she became a citizen. I think it was time for me to do it. I've been trying to do it for the longest [time]. I had some open time. I started studying for it. I was trying to accomplish something that is part of the things I wanted to accomplish this year."
During his ceremony, Fernandez was the only one of his 141 who became citizens to speak at the podium.
"It was a dream," he said. "It was really important to me and my family. I appreciate this amazing country and I respect it. I think it's an honor to be an American citizen.
"It really got to me. When I was talking to 140 people who were becoming citizens today, plus your family, it really got to me. It really makes me appreciate more every day this amazing country. I appreciate it a lot. It was an honor. Every day I wake up and I go outside, I appreciate every part of it. I appreciate being free."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.