MIAMI — The Miami Marlins honored their late pitching ace Jose Fernandez on Monday night, September 26th — a day after he was killed in a boating accident — a death that stunned and saddened the baseball world.
His teammates took the field at Marlins Park before their game against the New York Mets decked in jerseys with his last name and number 16.
Marlins and Mets players stood holding their caps on their hearts as a trumpeter played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Players from the teams hugged each other and the Marlins converged on the pitcher’s mound to rub dirt on their pants in honor of the late pitcher, who used dirt on the mound instead of a rosin bag to keep his hands dry.
Fernandez was one of baseball’s premier pitchers.
He made his big-league debut against the New York Mets on April 7, 2013. For five innings, he baffled hitters with fastballs and curves, surrendering one run and striking out eight on his way to being named National League Rookie of the Year.
Fernandez, who defected from his native Cuba at 15, died early Sunday in the boat crash at the entrance of Miami Harbor. The Marlins canceled their Sunday game against the Atlanta Braves as news of his death has stunned the baseball community, with players and fans alike taking to social media to express their grief.
The fans loved Fernandez, enjoying his energy and admiring his talent. Before Monday’s game, they lined up to purchase Fernandez jerseys, which were flying off the shelves and people paid their respects at a makeshift shrine outside the stadium.
Dora Amador is a season ticket holder in the “Jose’s Heroes” section of the stadium. Amador, a fellow Cuban, said she met Fernandez outside the stadium after one of his starts in 2013. “I’m so heartbroken,” she said. She said she met him after one of his first starts.
One boy held a sign that said, “We will always remember you Jose Fernandez. You were awesome to us. RIP. Rest in Peace Jose.”
As the Marlins came to bat, Dee Gordon smacked a home run. The stadium went wild as he rounded the bases in an emotional moment for players and fans.
“The two-time All-Star second baseman, after taking one pitch while batting from the right side, switched back to his natural spot as a lefty hitter and two pitches later belted his first home run of the season,” according to an MLB.com story.
Veteran baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal tweeted about Fernandez on Monday.
“Something for MLB to consider: A Jose Fernandez spirit award, presented to the player who best exemplifies love and passion for the game.”
Adam Conley took to the mound for the Marlins on Monday.
Conley tweeted a photo of himself and Fernandez in the uniform of the minor league Greenboro, North Carolina, Grasshoppers, with the message: “You were family, miss you brother.”
At an emotional news conference Sunday, Fernandez’s death was described as a loss to baseball, the Miami community where he lived and beyond.
“The magnanimity of his personality transcended culture, religion and race,” Marlins President David Samson said at a news conference where he was flanked by team officials.
“Jose is a member of this family for all time,” Samson said. “His story is representative of a story of hope, and of love and of faith, and no one will ever let that story die.”
‘There’s a game to be played’
Fernandez was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, and defected to the United States in 2008.
He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011 and went on to become the franchise’s star pitcher and a two-time All-Star.
But his story was about more than success on the field.
In 2008, Fernandez made his fourth attempt to flee Cuba, according to a 2013 Miami Herald story.
He’d been jailed for a previous failed attempt and, this time, was attempting to reach America via Mexico with his mother and sister.
Once on the open water, the newspaper reported, someone fell off the boat, and Fernandez, a good swimmer, asked no questions; he jumped in to save the person. It turned out to be his mother, Maritza.
Early Sunday, Fernandez and two other men were found dead after their boat was discovered at the entrance of Miami Harbor, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Lorenzo Veloz.
Coast Guard personnel on patrol noticed the vessel upside down on the north end of a rocky jetty early Sunday, Veloz said. Divers recovered two bodies under the boat, and a third victim was found on the rocks.
The Miami Marlins tweeted on Monday: “There’s a game to be played. He’d want it that way.”