MIAMI — Nothing about Jose Fernandez’s shocking death can be explained, just the senseless tragedy of it all. And yet, at 2 p.m. Wednesday, the exact time his memorial was to start outside Marlins Park, a steady rain suddenly began to fall on what had been a sunny South Florida afternoon.
How fitting. Giancarlo Stanton had said the Marlins played Monday night’s game as if they were “underwater” from their eyes constantly filled with tears, and here was Fernandez’s farewell motorcade, with the hearse containing Miami’s young ace, now being soaked with sympathy from all sides. The entire Marlins’ roster, along with owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson, had their extended hands on the hearse, saying a final goodbye as roughly 1,000 onlookers lined the avenue.
Many wore Fernandez’s No. 16, and sobbed as they waited for the motorcade to inch ahead. The Marlins’ personnel were outfitted in white T-shirts that read RIP, with the “I” replaced by a photo of Fernandez. As the hearse moved slowly, with Loria and Samson at the front, the crowd, stacked two or three deep on each side, began chanting, “Jo-se! Jo-se!”
“It’s all love,” Stanton said. “It’s all help. Everyone’s hurting, so we’re all coming together, giving support any way we can, whether it’s chanting, clapping, saying his name. Just being there. It’s all helping the cause.”
A dozen or so Mets, including Terry Collins, took part in the ceremony, standing a respectful distance from the grieving Marlins as the hearse and the family’s limos passed by. On Monday, the Marlins thanked the Mets for helping them get through that first game, which included an emotional group hug between the teams in the middle of the infield.
“I thought it was important to be there to honor Jose, but I thought it was important for us to have our people out there,” Collins said. “This is a very large fraternity. And it’s an exclusive fraternity. It’s hard to get in. So, when you lose somebody, I just think you need the representation of everybody else to be out there. We were represented very well today. I was very proud of that.”
The promenade adjacent to Marlins Park had been turned into a large outdoor monument to Fernandez. From the billboard-sized video screen bearing his smiling likeness to a shrine that had expanded rapidly since Sunday morning when his death was announced. The shrine was piled high with posters, caps, homemade signs, flower bouquets and dozens of lit prayer candles. It was backed by two concrete pillars, where people flocked to write personal messages. Because of the multitudes that did, the only remaining space left was six feet above the sidewalk.
After the motorcade passed — with Fernandez’s casket headed for a public viewing at a nearby church — former Stony Brook pitcher Tom Koehler and fellow Marlins teammate David Phelps moved through the crowd. Each grabbed a black Magic Marker. Phelps, a former Yankee, stood on his toes and reached as high as he could to scribble a message. Koehler chose to lay on the sidewalk, sprawled out, to fill the only empty area he could find along the bottom. Both players fought back tears.
“It was terrible,” Koehler said. “And I say it’s terrible because I never thought I’d have to be part of something like that. You have a 24-year-old kid that’s on top of the world and now we’re walking behind his hearse.”
Koehler recalled how his dad, “a huge Thurman Munson fan,” told him stories growing up about the death of the Yankees’ captain in 1979. The difficulty of a team dealing with such a loss, trying to play games again. Now Koehler’s Marlins are in the same situation, and every day requires finding more strength — for each other, for Fernandez’s grieving family. After Wednesday’s public memorial, the Marlins will take part in Thursday’s private funeral before heading to Washington for the season-ending series with the Nationals, who also plan to honor Fernandez before Friday’s game.
“He touched people, man,” Stanton said. “He was something special. There’s a personality that can’t be replaced.”