All of baseball was shocked and saddened by the loss of Miami Marlins 24-year-old ace pitcher, José Fernández. Fernández, along with two others, died early Sunday morning in a boating accident on Miami Beach.
Known for his enthusiastic personality and a pitch repertoire that staggered his opponents, Fernández proved to be the backbone of the Marlins pitching staff. In the final start of his career on Wednesday, September 21 against the Washington Nationals, Fernández pitched over eight innings and struck out 12 players in a 1-0 victory.
The Marlins’ game against the Atlanta Braves that was scheduled for Sunday, September 25 was cancelled and the Marlins returned Monday night in an emotional game against the New York Mets on September 26.
Monday’s game included a chilling pregame ceremony that began with a statement, in both Spanish and English, followed by an extended moment of silence. It also featured a lone trumpeter who played drawn-out notes of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” while a video tribute of Fernández was shown on the scoreboard. The Mets joined the Marlins to exchange handshakes and hugs on the field following a performance of the National Anthem.
Every Marlins player wore a No. 16 Fernández jersey in his honor, which is the last time No. 16 will be seen on a jersey for the Marlins, as they have retired the number in Fernández’s name. The grounds crew inscribed the No. 16 on the back of the pitchers mound and the center-field scoreboard simply read, “16 José Fernández.”
Second-baseman Dee Gordon set the tone for Monday night’s game when he hit his first home run of the season; a run that will undoubtedly go down in history.
Lefty-hitter, Gordon, stepped up to home plate in the right-handed batters box, wearing a helmet sporting No. 16, and took the first pitch in Fernández’s honor, before switching over to his natural left-handed side. On just the second pitch, Gordon hit a home run. After the game, Gordon stated, “I told the boys, ‘If y’all don’t believe in God, y’all might as well start.’ I ain’t ever hit a ball that far, even in BP [batting practice]. For that to happen today, we had some help.”
The Marlins ended the night on Monday with a 7-3 victory over the Mets.
Without thought, the Marlins gathered around the pitchers mound in a postgame tribute. Right-fielder Giancarlo Santon delivered a speech to his team and coaches, while the crowd chanted, “Jo-se! Jo-se!” Filled with tears, each player left their baseball cap on the mound as they knelt in honor of Fernández.
Following the game, according to MLB, Marlins manager Don Mattingly stated, "I'm just proud of our guys, just the way they hung together. It was not scripted. No one tells you how to handle it. There's nothing that tells you how to handle it. They just stuck together and went out and played. I think they really wanted to honor José; the way he played and how he went about things – just that joy that he had when he played, that confidence and that energy. I really think that was the focus of these guys, honoring him."
Fernández was a Cuban-born pitcher who tried, unsuccessfully, to defect from Cuba three times. In 2008, he and his family made it to the United States after an overwhelming journey. In 2015, Fernández became a U.S. citizen.
Fernández had an incomparable bond with his grandmother, Olga Fernández Romero, and in a 2013 interview he spoke about how his grandmother is a ‘baseball freak’ and she was the person who taught him how to catch and worked with him every single day while he was growing up. Fernández stated that seeing his grandmother come to the United States from Cuba was “better than being in the big leagues, better than winning anything.”
Overall in his career, Fernández was regarded as one of the best pitchers in the game. He sported a 38-17 record with a 2.58 ERA in 76 career starts, in which he was most dominant at his home field, Marlins Park. He was Miami’s first-round pick in 2011 at the age of 20 and was a two-time All-star and National League Rookie of the Year in 2013, becoming the first Cuban-born player to win the respected title.
His love for the game and enthusiastic spirit will surely be missed.