With the baseball world watching, the Miami Marlins hit all the right notes in their tribute to Jose Fernandez.
Baseball for me has always been a three-hour escape at the end of each day to just relax and forget about life for a while. Screw getting yelled at work, ignore whatever problems come your way and dial down the stress level… all that matters is the sweet sound of a 98 mph fastball cracking the leather of a catcher’s mitt or the pop of a home run ball that you know is gone before it even leaves the park.
But on Monday night, what I saw from the young grieving Miami Marlins transcended any baseball game I ever watched – and will probably watch for the rest of my life.
I’ve gotten emotional after seeing my favorite player Andy Pettitte make his final start in Houston, Derek Jeter‘s last game in Yankee stadium and Mike Piazza‘s dramatic home run that lifted the entire country up after 9/11, but nothing will ever come close to the raw emotion I felt for the duration of the Miami Marlins 7-3 victory over the New York Mets on Monday night.
On a day when the actual win was probably the last thing that even mattered, watching the way the brotherhood of the Miami Marlins shed tears all over the baseball diamond yet still manage to pick each other up for nine innings in their first game back after hearing the tragic news of 24-year old superstar Jose Fernandez passing away in a boating accident was undoubtedly the most remarkable thing I’ve ever witnessed in professional sports.
Following a dreary pre-game tribute that featured the Marlins taking the field with an empty mound surrounded by eight grieving position players, a prayer led by Giancarlo Stanton as the team huddled around the mound and a classy pre-game hug from the members of the New York Mets, there was baseball, and there was magic.
Dee Gordon set the tone with an emotional leadoff home run that was hit so hard you couldn’t help but feel like it will forever float into the Miami sky.
Of course this was just moments after Gordon, a left-handed batter, took the first pitch of the ballgame from the right of the side of the plate while wearing Fernandez’ helmet and imitating his batting stance as best he could to honor his fallen friend. If that didn’t cue the tears, watching Gordon cry as he rounded the bases and later embraced by crying teammates as he entered the dugout sure would.
"“That was one of the best moments of my life,” Gordon said in an interview with Fox Sports Florida immediately after the game. “I don’t have kids, so that’s the best moment of my life, to hit a home run for him.”"
Prior, Dee Gordon had eight career home runs and hadn’t homered in 380 + at-bats. If you think there was nothing supernatural about it or that the angel of Jose Fernandez didn’t carry that ball into the upper deck you need to go back and have a second look.
"“I saw him crying right when he rounded first base,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said of Gordon after his first-inning homer. “I was crying, too. I had my head down. But when he was coming to home plate, and tears were coming down his face, they were coming down mine, too. I’m pretty sure the whole world felt that emotion in that moment — whether you were here or watching it on TV or anywhere. For that to happen, for him to honor him with his batting stance the first pitch of the game, too, and to hit a homer, it’s unbelievable.”"
No, Dee Gordon’s home run didn’t bring a pennant back to Miami. It didn’t heal the aching hearts of the Marlins locker room, Fernandez’ family or the Miami community. It won’t bring Jose Fernandez back into the Marlins Park and back onto that mound, but what Gordon did on Monday night was one of those unscripted moments in sports that will forever transcend the game.
Relief pitcher David Phelps worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning, knelt behind the mound and touched the painted no.16 in a heartfelt gesture before heading back to the dugout.
In the bottom half of the seventh, Gordon lifted a pop fly to right to end the frame, which was followed up by a hug from Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a native of Cuba like the fallen Fernandez.
Four hits from Gordon, three added hits from Justin Bour and nine different Miami Marlin pitchers pitching their hearts out secured a 7-3 victory over the New York Mets as the entire Marlins roster wore number 16 with Fernandez’ name etched across their back.
Following the game, the Marlins players and coaches circled the mound one more time in an innocent display of unity as the Marlins fans in attendance chanted “Jo-se!” over and over again. The Marlins players proceeded to remove their ball caps and leave them on the mound. The very same mound that Jose Fernandez made his home, and the very same mound where his legacy will forever be remembered.
Rest in peace Jose.