Posted on February 15, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
There was something missing on Tuesday, as the Miami Marlins had their first official workout of spring training in preparation for the 2017 season. It was Jose Fernandez, their fallen ace. Fernandez and two friends died tragically in a boating accident in Miami last September, and nearly six months later, the Marlins organization is still grieving his loss. On the first day of camp, Marlins players couldn’t help but remark on the absence of Fernandez, and how he may be gone in body, but not in spirit.
“You felt it today when you walked in — his locker isn’t there,” Marlins president David Samson said Tuesday. “It’s the first spring we’ve had in a long time without Jose, and you can feel that difference. You look at the patch on everyone’s jersey and you can’t help but think about him. It’s beginning to come up in ways where the sadness is replaced by an occasional smile. I’m hoping for the guys, and for everyone that loved Jose, that eventually the sadness turns into smiles. But it’s just not today.”
Samson noted that the healing process will take “years, not months.” He says that Fernandez’s locker at Marlins Park will remain empty in his honor. The team also has plans to retire his no. 16 jersey at some point this season, and there is also talk of a permanent memorial somewhere in Marlins Park. It’s clear that Fernandez is still very much a part of the Marlins, and the no. 16 patches on the team’s jerseys are a constant reminder of his presence.
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“I don’t think you can go through something like that and not be changed, and have it not affect you,” said manager Don Mattingly. “For me, what I like to think about is that little kid. The way he played was with that joy you think about when you start playing. When I think of Jose, I think of that little kid. That’s really special. You’d really like your guys to have that feeling.”
Early in camp, the Marlins have already adopted the theme “Play like Jose” for the upcoming season. “He was a guy who cared so much and had so much passion,” said closer A.J. Ramos. “You want to be like that, whether it is talking (with reporters) or being with fans or showing more passion at the ballpark. Playing the game in the right way. Playing with some passion and joy because we get paid to play a game.”
Ramos says as he ran onto the field Tuesday, almost late for the first day of workouts, he could hear Fernandez yelling at him to hustle. “I could hear his voice. He’s present, I feel like, spiritually. It’s hard to get him out of your mind — not that I ever want to,” Ramos said. “Little things you do, you just think, I wonder what Jose would have been doing right here. It’s still fresh, the first spring training without him in a while. So it’s something you need to get used to.”
Even players new to the Marlins this year can feel the connection the team still has to Fernandez. “The 16s are everywhere, so you’re reminded of it constantly,” said recently-signed reliever Brad Ziegler. “I had never met him, and it was tough for me to watch from a distance. I know these guys loved him and cared a lot about him, and he cared for them.”
As the Marlins embark on the 2017 season, there’s no denying that Fernandez remains a part of the team in spirit. His presence is everywhere, and in a way, he’s helped bring everyone together behind a common cause, even if that cause is lingering grief.
“There’s a lot more hugs in the room than I’m used to in a Major League clubhouse,” Samson said. “The hugs used to come after big victories, or after you win a big playoff series. But the hugs feel different this year. There’s that bond that has developed.”