Jose's All-Star absence profound in Miami

Late Marlins ace had looked forward to hosting Midsummer Classic

July 10th, 2017

MIAMI -- The festivities go on as planned here. All the pomp and pageantry that makes the Midsummer Classic such a special element of the summer schedule is in full effect. Marlins Park will house tonight's T-Mobile Home Run Derby and Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. The metro area has its parade and FanFest and youth activities and galas galore.
But something -- someone -- is missing. Someone as elemental as the Little Havana heat.
"It's hard to come to Miami and not think about him," said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill.
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Hill's office overlooks the West Plaza wall at Marlins Park, where fans by the hundreds still scrawl their messages of love and loss to the late . Hill's players report to a home clubhouse where Fernandez's locker -- with his game jerseys, pants, gloves and cleats arranged just as he left them on Sept. 24, 2016 -- sits behind plexiglas.
This was supposed to be Jose's week. Today, specifically, was supposed to be the day the National League skipper announced his name for an awesome assignment.
"I'm sure this organization, looking forward to the 2017 All-Star Game, was like, 'OK, Jose Fernandez, check,'" said former Marlins pitcher Al Leiter. "'He'll be [awesome], and he's going to start.'"

Fernandez left behind a complicated legacy when the boat he was driving crashed into the north jetty of Government Cut around 2:40 a.m. that awful September morning, killing him and two of his friends. The 24-year-old right-hander was, as one grieving fan wrote on that wall, "baseball at its purest," a beaming beacon of light -- not just on the mound but in the community.
So there is heartbreak attached to this tale every single day, every single game, as the Marlins try to push forward without the young man who represented so much to so many. And the pain is even more pointed and pronounced here at an event where Jose undoubtedly would have warmly embraced an ambassadorial role.
This was supposed to be his moment, not his moment of silence.
"Ever since we finished the All-Star Game last year, he was anxious for this year's game to get here," his mother, Maritza Gomez, told the Miami Herald. "He knew that he had a guaranteed place in this All-Star Game. Even more that it was at home, for the first time being celebrated here. He was so excited. He was always talking about when it would arrive this year and his All-Star Game."
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"It's bittersweet," Hill said. "I don't even have the words, really, to describe it. I find myself thinking about him a lot. Just the connection that we all had to him. You have that memory, and he's gone. But what we've tried to do is dedicate this year to him, with the No. 16 on our jerseys, and honor him the best we can. Playing the game with his spirit and enthusiasm. I would think that would hold true for this game, as well. [Marlins All-Star reps Giancarlo] Stanton and [Marcell] Ozuna were both good friends of his, so they'll enjoy it the way he would have."

On Sunday, in the Marlins' clubhouse, which served as the U.S. clubhouse for the Sirius/XM All-Star Futures Game (an event Fernandez himself participated in back in 2012), Fernandez's locker was an unsettling backdrop to an otherwise jovial scene. As will be the case before Tuesday's game, players prepared for a high-profile exhibition while the specter of his death hung beside them. Leiter, who was the ceremonial pitching coach for the U.S. squad, said it reminded him of Thurman Munson's locker that sat near the trainer's room entrance at old Yankee Stadium.
"It gives you chills," said left-handed A's prospect A.J. Puk. "I took a picture and sent it to a couple buddies I played college baseball with, guys who were his teammates in high school -- Michael Fahrman and [recent Tigers Draft pick] Alex Faedo. It's definitely tragic, definitely sad to see."
Perhaps to the point of having an impact.
"What you hope is that these kids see it and they understand that while it's great to have fun and it's exciting to live on the edge, you bleed red," said Marlins alum Cliff Floyd, the U.S. hitting coach. "When you cut yourself, you ain't bleeding nothing but red. I hope they see that and understand that. Because all these jokers are about to be up there [in the big leagues] as soon as next week. So you hope they learn that."
Fernandez left behind a lesson to go with his legacy. That will have to be enough here in the park he called home, in a week and in a game that should have been a stage for the great All-Stars we'll rightfully celebrate, but also for a local bright light, one with so much promise, one that was more awed than flawed. But we know the turn it took. We can only hope he's watching, that in some way, he's still a piece of this jewel of an event.