In its first game since star pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident, an emotional Miami Marlins team took to the field Monday with every player dressed in their fallen teammate’s jersey.
It will be last time a Marlins player will ever wear No. 16. Team owner Jeffrey Loria announced the team is retiring Fernandez’s number.
A brief moment of silence was followed by a somber rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” on trumpet. Players wiped away tears as pictures of Fernandez were displayed on the giant screen inside Marlins Park.
As the national anthem came to a close, New York Mets and Marlins players met one another on the field to embrace in what one commentator described as an “extraordinary moment.”
The Marlins’ Twitter account summed up the moment perfectly: “Bigger than baseball,” a tweet reads.
The Marlins then gathered around the pitcher’s mound, where the number 16 was painted in honor of Fernandez. Players kneeled, bowing their heads and touching and writing in the dirt.
“You can see the players rubbing the dirt on their pants,” a commentator said. “Jose Fernandez in Cuba grew up without rosin bags, and so from Cuba to high school in Tampa into the major leagues, Fernandez would use the dirt on the mound and rub it on the side of his pants, would not use the rosin bags. And that’s how he kept his hand dry.”
The team then gathered in a tight huddle, surrounded by deafening applause from the stands. Multiple team members could be seen holding back tears. “We’re going to find a way to do this,” outfielder Giancarlo Stanton can be heard saying to the team in a video posted to the Marlins’ Twitter account.
Mets players also paid tribute to the late Fernandez, hanging a jersey with his name and number in their dugout.
As a salute to Fernandez, Marlins second baseman and leadoff batter Dee Gordon, a lefty batter, stepped to the plate batting right and wearing Fernandez’s batting helmet. After taking the first pitch, Gordon swapped the helmet for his own, and switched to the left-handed batters’ box. With a 2-0 count, Gordon homered to right field to give the Marlins the early 1-0 lead.
As he rounded the bases, he was overcome with emotion and broke down in tears when he reached home plate. It was his first home run of the season.
The Marlins defeated the Mets 7-3. After securing the win, Miami players once again gathered around the pitcher’s mound to honor Fernandez. The crowd chanted “Jo-se, Jose, Jose, Jose” as Marlins players left their hats, many adorned with Fernandez’s number and initials, on the mound.
Asked in a post-game interview how he managed to go out there and compete, Gordon said, “I don’t know how any of us got out there and played today.”
Gordon added that if Fernandez hadn’t been on the mound Monday night, he would have been on the top step of the dugout “screaming” for his team.
“I just hope, I hope he’s happy and I hope he’s good man, because we loved him,” Gordon said. “We loved him so much.”
Fernandez, 24, and two others were killed in a boating accident early Sunday in south Florida. In a statement confirming Fernandez’s death, the Marlins organization said it was “devastated by the tragic loss.”
“Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest,” Marlins owner Jeffrey H. Loria said in a statement. “José left us far too soon, but his memory will endure in all of us.”
Condolences continued to pour in Monday from around the league, with a number of teams hanging Fernandez’s jersey in their dugouts.