WASHINGTON — It’s been a difficult week for the Florida Marlins, who awoke last Sunday to learn that ace and key building block for the future Jose Fernandez had died in a tragic boating accident.
It was a roller coaster of emotions, as on and off the field ceremonies, tributes and remembrances kept the spotlight on the Marlins. When the team arrived in Washington, D.C., they were greeted by messages from Nationals players and the Arizona Diamondbacks, the last team to use the visitor’s facilities.
The D’backs are in the final stretch of one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, but that didn’t stop them from sending one of the most heartfelt and important messages of the year.
Recognizing that the Marlins would be the next team to visit the facilities at Nats Park, one member of the Diamondbacks left a message of support on the team’s weight room dry erase board:
Ty Hill is the Marlins strength and conditioning coach and snapped the picture that went viral on Twitter: “Dee Gordon had the most important HR of the year. Good luck fellas, we’re praying for you.”
The message references the lead-off home run Gordon hit in the first game the Marlins played after the tragedy. The light-hitting Gordon had not hit a home run all season, and took the first pitch on the right side of the plate, wearing Fernandez’s helmet.
On the next pitch, he switched to his natural left side of the plate and hit the pitch into the second deck at Marlins Park in Miami.
He cried as he rounded the bases, a play that was relived countless times on sports shows coast to coast:
During the rain delay of Friday night’s contest between the Marlins and Nationals, FOX Sports Florida played clips of Nationals players reflecting on Fernandez’s enduring influence on the game:
Trea Turner faced Fernandez three times in his career, going 0-for-3 with one strikeout. Even with his grim batting line, he could appreciate the greatness that he faced.
“He brought special joy to the game, competed every single pitch and was fun to watch,” Turner said of Fernandez. “Not fun to face because he was very, very good, but he was fun to watch.
“We’re all going to miss him, for sure. [I will] just try to carry on his legacy and characteristics that were special to the game.”
Veteran teammate Daniel Murphy has spent his entire career in the National League East and saw his fair share of the young phenom. In 16 plate appearances, Murphy had only four hits with no damage on the scoreboard, while striking out twice.
Murphy was philosophical in remembering Fernandez.
“I think what you notice about Jose is the level of joy that he got out of baseball. I long to get that much joy out of the game and be that excited about it,” he said. “It never felt fake, the way he brought it every day, whether he was starting or cheering his teammates on.”
Murphy references the last start of Fernandez’s career, against the Nats on September 20. Fernandez stifled Washington over eight shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 2.86 and running his record to 16-8. He allowed only three hits while striking out 12.
“I think he enjoyed throwing against this team, at least from my perspective this year, because he was so good,” Murphy said. “We didn’t do a lot against him, and I think that’s the perfect example of how well he threw against us in his last start in Miami. It was a special thing to watch.
“From a baseball perspective, we’ve kind of had greatness snatched away from us, unfortunately. From the human perspective, when you see the joy and the excitement and the way he brought people together–his story has been told countless times. How he was able to come over and the trials that he faced in doing that.
“He was able to not only bring together an organization and the city of Miami, but you see the way baseball has come together.”
Nats manager Dusty Baker used one fan’s story to illustrate the level of support that D.C. had for grieving Marlins players and fans.
“There was a little boy who comes to every single game. He has eye black on and the biggest Nats fan that there is,” he told the media. “Then I looked up [today] and he has a Florida Marlins hat on, and he said, ‘This is for Fernandez.’
“I thought that was pretty cool, when people are acknowledging–even when they want your team to win, they’re for your team–but they still want to acknowledge him.”