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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Well into the night, there was a steady stream of fans, moms, dads and kids saying their final goodbye to Jose Fernandez – the Cuban kid with the electric arm and a smile that delighted and charmed.
For those that came Wednesday night to St. Brendan’s Catholic Church, there was a hero inside the closed casket covered with roses.
“I can’t imagine what that family is going through. My heart goes out to them,” one woman said, with tear flowing down her eyes.
The pictures, the flowers, the slow hesitation at the casket – it was a final acknowledgment for the kid who could fill the stands on the night he pitched.
“My mom is 82 years old. We shared baseball games and we went to so many games and watched Jose play,” Anna Garcia said.
For families, it was a teaching moment for their young.
“I brought him on purpose to understand what it is for people to fight for freedom,” said Beatrice Caballero.
“He was an inspiration for a lot of kids like me and he came to our country and had freedom,” said her son, Nicolas Caballero.
Jose Fernandez, only 24 years old when he died early Sunday morning in a tragic boating accident off Miami Beach, wasn’t just loved because of his pitching ability but because of his likeability.
“You gotta pay your respects to a great man, a legend. He was a good man all around. He’s going to be missed here in Miami for sure,” said fan Jason Fernandez.
Norma Diaz said, “I just wanted to come here and sign my name and make sure that him and his family and the Marlins community know that I feel very sad about the tragedy that happened Saturday night/Sunday morning.”
Fan Ana Santos said, “It’s sad, it’s sad because of all he went through and how his life ended so short and I just feel for his family.”
The funeral procession left Marlins Park at 2:16 pm, in honor of the No. 16 he wore. It stopped at Ermita de la Caridad (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity) located at 3609 South Miami Ave. for a private blessing. Afterward, the public viewing was held from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m at St. Brendan Catholic Church, 8725 SW 32nd St. in Miami.
Fans chanted “Jose” as the hearse carrying his casket slowly drove by the front of the ballpark.
Tears ran easily as if these fans loss a family member.
“You feel like you lost a brother. Like you lost a cousin,” a fan said.
Even after the funeral procession was gone, fans stayed. Many of them were Cuban Americans feeling as if one of their own was taken too soon.
“I’m a baseball fan, I grew watching baseball. My parents fought to come to this country the same way that he did. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here so it hits home,” he said.
But no matter your background, this was a loss to us all.
“We are all suffering and hurting inside because of this loss and it’s devastating. He meant a lot to the South Florida community. At such a young age he became a, I don’t know, he’s going to become a legend. At 24, he’s going to become a legend,” said Marlins fan John Anthony Lopez.
Fans hope that legend will be immortalized forever here at Marlins Park.
“Here at Marlins Park we want a statue. We definitely want a statue so we can come so we can see and be inspired to live like him,” said another fan, Julio Rodriguez.
Marlins players, who are struggling to finish out their season, were at the park when the motorcade left at 2:16 p.m. The team has four games left and their final home game against the Mets tonight.
Skipper Don Mattingly was asked what today’s public farewell means to the team.
“Watching all the stuff that’s going on, it’s hard to get a real feel for what’s going on. It’s kind of one of those things that you’re kind of in the middle of it you don’t get to see where the waves and ripples are going so we’re just kind of in the middle of it. And again, we don’t know what’s coming in the next few days.”
Thursday, a private funeral will be held where Marlins staff, players and family will attend.
In lieu of flowers, the Fernandez family requests charitable contributions to the JDF16 Foundation at the Miami Foundation.