José Fernández, right handed starting pitcher for the Miami Marlins, already a star and considered to have one of the most promising futures in all of major league baseball, was killed, along with two of his friends, in a boating accident off Miami Beach early Sunday morning. He was 24 years old.
José was the living definition of joie de vivre. His exuberance was uncontainable; his love for his family, teammates, and for the game of baseball were in constant evidence. His life story is the pure embodiment of the American Dream.
Every single Marlins player, along with Manager Don Mattingly, President David Samson and President of Baseball Operations Mike Hill, crowded into the room where they held the heart wrenching press conference just a few hours after the the overturned boat, along with the three bodies, was discovered at 3:30am Sunday.
After the press conference was over, the entire team piled into buses (one of them graciously provided by the Atlanta Braves, who were still in town for the last game of their series with the Marlins, which was to be played on Sunday, but was, of course, cancelled) and spent the entire afternoon at the home of José’s mother, comforting her, José’s grandmother, and his pregnant girlfriend.
Once it was time to play baseball again, on Monday night against the New York Mets, every single Marlins player, coach and manager wept openly, before, during and after the game, unashamedly displaying their love for their fallen brother.
Every Marlins player, coach and manager wore the Marlins’ normal black jersey, except all of them had José’s number (16) and last name on their back. I don’t know of this ever taking place before, except for the annual Jackie Robinson celebration, where everyone in Major League Baseball wears Robinson’s number 42.
Prior to the game, after the moment of silence to honor José’s memory during which the Marlins players circled the mound, the Mets players came out of their dugout and tearfully embraced the Marlins players, something that had not happened since these same Mets were similarly consoled by the Atlanta Braves on the first game played in New York after 9/11.
Dee Gordon, the Marlins’ left handed leadoff hitter, took the first pitch of the game from the right side of the plate, imitating José’s immediately recognizable batting stance. He then switched to his natural left side. Two pitches later, he hit his first home run of the season, tearfully circled the bases and broke down in the dugout.
The Mets taped a Mets jersey with number 16 and the name Fernández on the back, on their dugout wall. It said, you are one of us. You are our brother, as well.
At the end of the game (the Marlins won, 7-3), the Marlins players again circled the mound, and, in another impromptu tribute, left their hats on the mound in honor of José.
I posted this:
My son posted this:
And so it goes. We all knew José was going to become a legend someday.
Just not so soon.