Friday, July 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Fennelly: Jose Fernandez the heartbreak that hovers over Marlins

JUPITER — Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, who represents the estate of the late Jose Fernandez, and who was Fernandez's friend, says Jose wasn't driving the boat that night and that the homicide report will bear that out. He mentioned Jose Fernandez's mother, Maritza Gomes Fernandez. They talk on the phone every day. Maritza sends Ralph Fernandez photos, usually from the same place.

"She goes almost every single day to the rocks," Ralph Fernandez said. "She texts me from the jetty."

Where the crash happened. Where her son died.

It has been nearly five months.

On Tuesday, 90 miles north of the jetty where Jose, Eddy Rivero and Emilio Macias died in a boat accident, the Miami Marlins reported to spring training. They pressed forward.

He was still on their minds. There was no Jose. All gone at 24, late last September on those rocks off Miami Beach.

Marlins players and coaches left the clubhouse Tuesday for the fields. They started over. That's what baseball does. They wore a "16" patch on their jerseys — Jose's number. It will stay there all season, on their chests, close to their hearts.

"You mourn, you grieve," Marlins pitching coach Juan Nieves said. "Then there are memories and smiles."

This is still a wounded team, one in search of healing.

Marlins president David Samson said, "I would say I'm going to measure the healing in years, not months."

Fernandez was that much larger than life, on and off the baseball field. Lovable. Brash. Loud. Joyous. He was the cornerstone of the Miami franchise. He was hope, and not just in baseball.

The ending is a tragedy with complications. There was the autopsy report that found alcohol and cocaine in Fernandez's system at the time of the crash. There is the lawsuit filed last week by the families of the other two victims, each seeking $2 million from Fernandez's estate.

And — joy and sadness at once — there is a baby on the way: Jose Fernandez's daughter.

His girlfriend, Maria Arias, is set to deliver a child who will never know her father except from stories.

There is pain that won't heal.

For the families of the other men, too.

Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon stood in the clubhouse in Jupiter and looked toward where Fernandez's locker used to be. It isn't there anymore. Fernandez's locker at Marlins Park will be there if Marlins Park is there.

Last September, it was Gordon, leading off for Miami in its first game after Fernandez died, who switched from left-handed to righty at the plate to honor his friend. One pitch. Then Gordon switched back and homered into the upper deck. His only homer of the season. He rounded the bases in tears. Who didn't cry?

Tuesday, Gordon said he looked for the stationary bike Fernandez always rode. It was gone. Jose gabbed as he rode. The kid could talk.

"This is going to be tough, but we'll get through it," Gordon said. "But it's a little quiet in here."

Samson was asked if Fernandez's legacy is tainted by the autopsy report. He doesn't think it is. Still …

"We talk every day about making good decisions. The legacy not as a baseball player, but as a man. Everything we do, there's a consequence to it. Every decision you make has a consequence. … You just must talk about consequences. Sometimes you just don't get a second chance. That's the saddest part of this. There's no second chance. And the permanence of that is what rings in my ears every day, the permanence of the choices that we made and the chances that we will never get again."

Juan Nieves was asked for one word to describe Fernandez, an Alonso High grad.

"Life," he said.

"She sends me pictures when it's raining, when the rocks are slick, when the tide is high," Ralph Fernandez said of Maritza. "She goes to the rocks. I'm concerned about her safety. Jose Fernandez's mom goes out on the jetty. She feels the connection to where her son died. She asks me, How do you think it was at the end?"

Ralph Fernandez said that a few years ago he took Jose to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.

"He became consumed thinking about the people who jumped that day," Ralph Fernandez said. "He kept asking if before they hit the ground, did God take them? Two weeks before he died, Jose told me, 'Boss, I can't get it out of my mind. Do you think God took those people, at the last moment, before they hit?' "

It's haunting.

So is Maritza's photography from the jetty. One picture is from last Christmas morning. The sun was coming up. So peaceful.

The Miami Marlins have returned to baseball.

Jose Fernandez's daughter will soon arrive.

Life.

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