MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Jose Fernandez made his major league debut against the New York Mets in 2013 and was scheduled to face them again Monday night.
Instead, Miami mourns and the Marlins pushed on without their 24-year-old ace, who was killed in a boating accident early Sunday.
In tribute to Fernandez, left-handed hitter Dee Gordon stepped to the plate as a righty to lead off the first inning of Monday’s mournful game.
After one pitch, Gordon switched to his customary left side — and homered in the first at-bat for Miami since his death.
Gordon pulled a 2-0 pitch from New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon over the wall in right for his first homer of the season. He tapped his chest after crossing the plate and waved toward the sky, and then sobbed as teammates hugged him in the dugout.
It was another heart-tugging moment in a succession of them over the past two days.
The atmosphere was funereal at Marlins Park three hours before the first pitch, with players going through their pregame stretching in eerie silence.
“Deep in our hearts there is a lot of pain,” third baseman Martin Prado said. “Somehow we’ve got to overcome that.”
He went on, “One of the main things about the Marlins was Jose.”
Fernandez and two other men died when their 32-foot SeaVee slammed into a jetty off Miami Beach at 3:15 a.m. Sunday, authorities said. The news sent shockwaves throughout Major League Baseball and the rest of the sports world.
The Miami Dolphins and other teams held a moment of silence while the Mets, Dodgers and Mariners hung his number 16 jersey in their dugouts.
“My wife woke me up and said you know Jose died and I was like no way,” said Cubs Outfielder Chris Coghlan while choking back tears.
“When he took the mound, everyone was excited for it,” said Cubs Infielder Anthony Rizzo.
The other two victims in the crash have been identified as Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, according to Darren Caprara, operations director of the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office.
The Marlins’ Sunday afternoon game against Atlanta was canceled, but there were pregame tributes and moments of silence for him throughout both leagues. Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel a pregame tribute they scheduled in his honor before his final game in their ballpark Sunday.
Fernandez’s backstory made his death even more heart-wrenching. He escaped from Cuba by boat on his fourth try as a teenager, and when his mother fell into the Yucatan Channel during the journey, he jumped in and pulled her out.
“I don’t have the words to describe the pain I feel,” Ortiz said. “Jose was one of the special cases. The story behind him and his family and the way everything happened. You know how remarkable his career was going. But the most important thing was his kindness and the kind of person he was. It’s hard, man.”
Mets manager Terry Collins reminisced about Fernandez’s debut against his team three years ago.
“When the first pitch left his hand, the first thought is, oh, wow, this is something special,” Collins said. “This was not only one of the greatest pitchers in the modern game, but one of the finest young men you’d ever meet, who played the game with passion and fun and enjoyed being out there.”
Marlins players and team officials gathered at the ballpark to grieve together.
“All I can do is scream in disbelief,” said Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a Marlins executive and native of Cuba. “Jose won the love of all. I feel as if I had lost a son.”
An emotional news conference was attended by every player on the Marlins, except their ace. The players wore team jerseys — black ones.
Manager Don Mattingly and president of baseball operations Michael Hill flanked team president David Samson and unsuccessfully fought back tears. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton didn’t speak but later posted a tribute on Instagram.
“I’m still waiting to wake up from this nightmare,” Stanton said. “I lost my brother today and can’t quite comprehend it. The shock is overwhelming. What he meant to me, our team, the city of Miami, Cuba & everyone else in the world that his enthusiasm/heart has touched can never be replaced. I can’t fathom what his family is going through because We, as his extended Family are a wreck.”
Fernandez was on a vessel that hit a jetty near a harbor entrance, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The boat remained in the water for several hours, its engines partially submerged as its nose pointed skyward, as debris from the crash was scattered over some of the large jagged rocks.
Veloz described the condition of the boat as “horrible.”
There was no immediate indication that alcohol or drugs were a cause in the crash, Veloz said.
A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, he and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Tampa, Florida, with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.
The Marlins drafted him in 2011, and Fernandez was in the majors two years later at 20. He went 38-17 in his four seasons with Miami, winning the NL’s Rookie of the Year award in 2013, and was twice an All-Star.
Last week Fernandez posted a photo of his girlfriend sporting a “baby bump” on his Instagram page, announcing that the couple was expecting its first child.
Fernandez became a U.S. citizen last year and was enormously popular in Miami thanks to his success and exuberant flair. When he wasn’t pitching, he would hang over the dugout railing as the team’s lead cheerleader.
“When I think about Jose, it’s going to be thinking about a little kid,” Mattingly said, pausing repeatedly to compose himself. “I see such a little boy in him … the way he played. … Kids play Little League, that’s the joy Jose played with.”
Mattingly then wiped away tears, and he wasn’t alone.
Fernandez’s agent, Scott Boras, spoke to reporters near the batting cage — or at least tried to. He said he paid his respects to the family before coming to the ballpark.
“His mother wanted me to tell everyone how she felt,” Boras said. “She showed me pictures of him as a boy. She actually made his uniform when he was 7 or 8, with Cuban red pants.”
Boras then cut short the interview because he couldn’t stop crying.
The Marlins organization held a special tribute before Monday night’s game against the Mets – a game Jose Fernandez was supposed to start.
Major League Baseball granted the team permission to have all their players wear Fernandez’s number and name on their jerseys.
The black jerseys were flown in from Philadelphia, emblazoned with a No. 16 patch on the sleeve. The team will wear the patch for the remainder of the season.
There was a moment of silence prior to the game and a lone trumpet played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
The team also painted a black No. 16 on the back of the pitcher’s mound at Marlins Park where are the players gathered before and after the game.
The players warmly imitated Fernandez’s pregame routine and Mattingly kissed the pitching rubber at the end of the game.
And while the Marlins won the game, they forever lost a bright, rising star.
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