SPORTS

In 1st game after tragedy, Marlins offer emotional farewell to star pitcher José Fernández

José Fernández’s spirit was felt all around Marlins Park Monday night.

The late Miami Marlins pitcher felt very present when almost everyone inside the ballpark teared up after Fernandez’s teammate, the lead-off hitter and second baseman Dee Gordon, hit a home run in the 1st inning off New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón.

It was his first homer of the season. A tearful Gordon pointed at the sky when he stepped on home plate and was met with by his emotional teammates.

"I don't have kids, but that's the best moment of my life, hitting a home run for him," Gordon said.

Early Sunday morning, Fernandez was killed along with two friends in a boating accident in Government Cut, the channel that separates Miami Beach from Fisher Island. Fernandez was 24.

The Marlins cancelled their Sunday afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves because of his death.

Fernandez, a Cuban-born athlete who fled the island in 2008 with his mother and sister, was scheduled to make his 30th start of the season on Monday. Every time he pitched at home, the Marlins marketed the game as José Day – a promotion that was well attended.

Between innings on Monday, images of Fernandez were shown on the Jumbotron backed by the sound of Cuban singers Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan.

Fans clapped appreciatively after every tribute. The number 16 was displayed both inside and outside Marlins Park. All the Marlins players wore Fernandez's No. 16 jersey in his honor.

Many of the fans also wore his jersey and carried pictures of the two-time All-Star.

From the stands, fans screamed in Spanish, "José está aquí!" – “José is here!”

Marlins fan Julio Iglesias Aguiar looked at the makeshift Fernandez memorial where fans left messages in his memory. Aguiar held back tears while speaking about the tragedy.

"I just ask myself, ‘Why?’ He was so young. It would be different if the person was 60 or 70 years old,” Aguiar told Fox News Latino. “He had a life ahead of him. This has been so hard. Everyone loved him. He was a lovable person. I would say hello to him all the time. He would say hello back to me."

Season ticket holder James Buonadonna walked around the stadium with a picture of Fernandez and a written message dedicated to his favorite player.

"This guy was my inspiration,” he said. “I would come to see him pitch and he brought everything he had. He was free and that mound was his home."

Buonadonna added, "I thank him for every pitch and every smile. At a time when I didn't have anything to be happy about that guy gave me a reason to smile."

Although the decision has yet to be announced officially, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told the Miami Herald 

"Nobody's going to wear it," Loria said. "I can tell you that now: Nobody will wear that number again."

"There are plenty of numbers they can wear, but not that one" he said. "We'll let them use triple digits if we have to."

Not terribly likely.

In their history, the Marlins have only retired only one number, No. 5, which belonged to the team’s first president, Carl Barger, who died in December 1992.

In 2012, they un-retired it to accommodate the wishes of first baseman Logan Morrison, who now plays on the Tampa Bay Rays.

At the start of Monday’s game, there was a moment of silence inside the park. The Marlins’ starting lineup circled the pitcher's mound. Soon after, the Mets and Marlins players shook hands and hugged.

Wearing a Mets jersey, Louie Montoya, drove from Tampa to watch his favorite team play. He was saddened by Fernandez's death.

"It was sad and crazy to hear about his passing," said Montoya, who is originally from New York.

Abner Martinez and his son, 8-year-old Darrien, both cried when they heard the news of Fernandez's death.

"Being deeply rooted in the baseball community, we feel sadness and sorrow for the amazing idol and role model that today's youth lost," Martinez told FNL. "Sports has a great way of dealing with tragedy, and every moment thereafter is engrained inside of you to honor those who passed with in the most emotive and loving way possible."

Before the game, the Marlins posted their starting lineup on Twitter, along with the message, “There’s a game to be played. He’d want it that way.”

For the record, the Marlins won the game, 7-3.

Afterward, players circled the mound once again and placed their caps on the pitchers’ mound.

The stadium went silent for a few moments and fans began to chant, "José, José, José” while "See you again" by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth played.