For a late-September game between two teams chasing a playoff spot, the Marlins’ 7-3 win over the Mets on Monday was about as meaningless as it gets.
That’s because the playoff race, at least for one night, took a backseat to honoring Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old face of the franchise who died early Sunday in a boating accident off Miami Beach.
Monday night in Marlins Park was special, it was emotional, it was organic.
“The key word is organic,” Marlins radio host Glenn Geffner said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Other than the fact that the players decided they all wanted to wear No. 16 Fernandez jerseys and other than the fact that they all decided they would walk up to some of Jose’s favorite songs or to songs that they felt sent the right message to Jose, everything that happened pregame was truly organic. Nothing was planned in advance. Watching it, we didn’t realize that. We learned it after the game talking to Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon. It was all very organic.”
It was also organic when the Mets hugged the Marlins before the game.
“You saw the empathy. You saw the brotherhood,” Geffner said. “These are division rivals. The Mets are in a very good spot to make the playoffs but still fighting for their lives. The Marlins, with a magic number of nearly zero, are in desperate need of victories. But you saw that brotherhood and that empathy and that was the moment where David Van Horn, my partner, and I really lost it emotionally.”
Then Dee Gordon happened. Gordon, a lefty, led off the game by taking the first pitch as a righty to pay tribute to Fernandez. Gordon then went back to lefty and – while wearing Fernandez’s batting helmet – launched a 2-0 pitch over the wall.
It was his first homer of the year.
“He called it the greatest moment of his life,” Geffner said. “It was very emotional. We’re in the radio booth and we’re a little isolated from the folks in the bleachers, but it was a roar unlike many we’ve heard at Marlins park. After so many tears, it was a little jubilation for that split second there. And then there were more tears. We saw Giancarlo Stanton cry multiple times tonight. I said during the broadcast the Marlins have taken over the league lead in tears without question, very sadly. But it was initially very somber in the ball park, all through the pregame. And then things began to change after that Dee home run. It was a celebration of Jose’s life and career. Still, you get to the point where now the rest of the world moves on beginning tomorrow. For these guys, it’s not that easy to do that.”
It’s hard to describe just how much Fernandez meant to the Marlins, but Geffner tried anyway.
“This was a special young man,” he said. “The amazing thing is in the last two days, with all the tributes, nobody has talked about statistics, and the statistics were eye-popping. But what he meant off the field, his personality, the joy that he brings to the ball park every day, the passion for the game that he brings every day – several, including Don Mattingly, talked about it being almost like watching a little leaguer.”
Fernandez played with genuine joy and exuberance, which is easy to lose by the time you get to the big leagues.
“Jose hadn’t lost it,” Geffner said. “And I promise you if he would have pitched until he was 40 years old, he never would have lost that joy. It was so infectious. That’s what he meant to this clubhouse. He brought a joy and a passion that, over the course of 162 and over the course of too many losses in too many seasons, it’s easy to lose that. Jose never did. That’s going to be missed.”
The Marlins announced that they will retire Fernandez’s No. 16 jersey.
“I don’t think that surprised anybody,” Geffner said. “Jose’s presence will be felt around this team for years to come. You could feel it in the ballpark tonight. It was tangible. You could feel it. He was there.”