Senior Vice President, Tampa Bay Rays
Mark Fernandez knows his way around the streets of Ybor City better than most Tampa residents. His grandparents immigrated to the city more than half a century ago and Fernandez says many of his early childhood memories involve places like La Tropicana Café. Being born and raised in Tampa has given Fernandez an incredible passion for the culture associated with his hometown, as well as preserving its legacy through organizations such as United Way. He recently shaved his head for the Rays Foundation’s “Fortune Favors the Bald” event, which has raised thousand of dollars for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Moffitt Cancer Center and All Children’s Hospital. When he’s not at Tropicana Field—or La Tropicana for that matter—he enjoys spending time with his wife Trudie (whom he’s been married to for 21 years) and their children Grace, James and Eden.
How did you become involved with the United Way?
I was fortunate early in my career to have mentors professionally who really walked the walk about community activity and the United Way was what they were involved in so they brought me into it and from there I fell in love.
What is one of your favorite memories when working with the United Way?
I wouldn’t say I have a memory as much as things that I’m really proud of that I get to see on a regular basis. What I love about the United Way is it’s really about community impact, breaking the cycle of poverty and preparing kids for post-secondary success. So whether it’s at the Sulphur Springs Recreation Center, where you can see that happen every day through the United Way’s support to help that community and help that ‘F’ school become an ‘A’ school, or the work we did in south St. Pete with the Rays where United Way helped us impact truancy and graduation rates, there are ongoing programs that you can point to and be proud of.
What is one of your favorite charity events in Tampa Bay and why?
In June is Feeding America’s Fork Fight, and what I love about that event is it’s not only about the food and different chefs preparing different meals, but it’s really about raising awareness about their food bank program. It’s really a cool event.
As a leading man, what is one of your proudest accomplishments?
I wouldn’t say there’s an accomplishment. I’m really proud of the relationships I have in my life, both personally and professionally. The impact that the Rays organization has had in the community, I’m incredible proud of.
What’s the best dish in Tampa Bay?
My family is from Ybor City. My grandparents are immigrants to Ybor City and lived just a few blocks from La Tropicana on 11th Avenue. My grandmother rolled cigars in this town for 50 years. So for me, café con leche, Cuban bread, and eggs and chorizo are comfort food. It’s someone else’s macaroni and cheese. There’s a fondness and are a lot of great memories that I associate with this.
What’s one food you won’t eat?
I’m embarrassed to say there isn’t much I won’t eat unless I’m allergic to it (laughs). I’m allergic to almonds and a couple of nuts so if there are almonds on it and I’m hungry, I’ll probably eat it.
How do you like to unwind?
I get the greatest joy from hanging out with my kids. I get such a kick out of who they are and who they’ve become. Because of the baseball season, there are some nights where I don’t get home until midnight, 1am and so there is some less-than-intellectual television that I like to watch. I might sit down for a nice episode of Duck Dynasty or Pawn Stars. I’d like to say I sit down for some great intellectual exercise, but I don’t (laughs).
Who do you most admire in Tampa Bay?
I have a great admiration for what Dr. Judy Genshaft has done to help elevate USF as a top research institution and top intellectual center in our community. It has become a significant part of the economic development too. I’m very proud of what she and her team have led out there. In conjunction with that, I’d say Dr. Stephen Klasko at USF Health. The two of them together is terrific.
Outside of charity work, what inspires you?
Getting to be a part of something bigger than me is pretty cool. When the team went to the World Series in 2008 was that moment. For me, it was a couple of weeks before that when that final out was made and the team made the playoffs. I remember when I took the job here in 2005 and a lot of people I was close to raised their eyebrows and asked ‘why are you doing that?’ At that moment when we sort of turned that corner and now being the most popular team in town, that’s overwhelming. That’s the collection. That’s a common vision in the front office, in the clubhouse, on the field, in the community and that’s inspiring that one plus one equals more than two.
Which Bay-area spots do you take your out-of-town guests to really show off our city?
I would show off the whole region: I’d bring them to Ybor City and then to St. Pete and Beach Drive and probably take them to the Tradewinds and see St. Pete Beach.
What are you currently reading?
“1776” by David McCullough
What’s dream vacation look like?
Over the last four years, I’ve taken each of my kids somewhere for a week during the summer. I love doing that; those are some of my favorite memories, to the point where my kids are sick of hearing me talk about it. If I can keep doing that, it would be great.
What advice would you pass on to younger generations?
You can be humble and fearless at the same time.
If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?
I don’t want to be flying or running around at my age so I’d say telepathy. I think it would serve me well to read minds at this point in my life.
What’s one thing most people wouldn’t know about you?
I’m very sentimental. It’s pretty easy for me to cry at a movie but only my family really knows that.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be Batman or a baseball player.
Favorite album of all time: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Damn the Torpedoes” or the Rolling Stones “Tattoo You”
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
If a movie were made about your life, whom would you want to play you?
I would say Shaq (laughs). I really like him. I think he’s likeable and seeing him play me would be preposterous.
Do you have a motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
Be a servant leader.