MIAMI -- An organization and hundreds of its grieving fans gathered at Marlins Park on Wednesday afternoon to bid farewell to All-Star pitcher José Fernández, whose tragic death has rocked South Florida and the sports world.On an overcast and sometimes rainy afternoon, Fernandez's body was driven to Marlins Park for
MIAMI -- An organization and hundreds of its grieving fans gathered at Marlins Park on Wednesday afternoon to bid farewell to All-Star pitcher José Fernández, whose tragic death has rocked South Florida and the sports world.
On an overcast and sometimes rainy afternoon, Fernandez's body was driven to Marlins Park for a memorial that lasted 20 minutes and will be etched in the hearts of all who attended.
:: Jose Fernandez: 1992-2016 ::
"This has been like one of my family has passed away," said Rafael Olivo, who was born in Cuba and settled in the United States at age 7 in 1960. "I've seen all of Jose's games. I've been to all of his games here. I sit behind the dugout, so it was always back and forth. I'd always talk with his mom and his grandmom.
"I grew up all my life here in Miami. He was the new generation of people trying to escape Cuba. A brave kid, wanted to make a better living in the United States."
Olivo said to older Cuban-Americans, Fernandez was affectionately called "Joseito."
Following the Marlins Park memorial, a public viewing was held about 10 miles away at St. Brendan Catholic Church, which lasted from 5-11 p.m. ET. Hundreds, if not at least a thousand more from the community attended, streaming through the church to pay their respects.
A large arrangement of flowers was draped over the closed coffin, which was flanked by floral flags of the United States and Fernandez's native Cuba. The 24-year-old gained U.S. citizenship in April of 2015. Pictures of Fernandez, who was known to light up any room with his big smile, were on display.
Fans both old and young were on hand, lining Northwest 6th Street, also called Felo Ramirez Drive, in honor of the Marlins' Hall of Fame Spanish-language radio voice who still is going strong in his early 90s.
One of the most popular players in franchise history, Fernandez always had the ability to draw a crowd. Each of his starts went by the hashtag #JoseDay. And many of his greatest accomplishments on the field were at Marlins Park, a place where he posted a 29-2 record overall and was 12-2 in 2016.
Fernandez and two friends tragically were killed in a boating accident early Sunday morning.
The hearse carrying Fernandez's body arrived at Marlins Park around 2 p.m. ET, where it was greeted by Marlins players, coaches, front office and many staff members. Fans lined the street, frequently chanting: "Jose! Jose! Jose!" Some shouted they loved him, and many were emotional.
Owner Jeffrey Loria presented Fernandez's mother, Maritza, with his jersey. Manager Don Mattingly also offered his condolences.
"I've never been involved in anything like that, and it's just -- I don't know how to describe it," Mattingly said. "Honestly, you're just going through it. You see the casket and things like that -- I don't know if that really hits home, but what's real is his mom, and I always go back to his mom over and over. It's hard to just see that. I can't even imagine that."
Marlins officials and players wore white T-shirts with RIP on the front, with the I being replaced by Fernandez's image.
"We're all coming together, giving support the way we can, whether it's chanting, clapping, saying his name, [or] just being there, silent, having your own thoughts," said Giancarlo Stanton. "It's all helping the cause."
Teammates touched the hearse, unable to hold back tears.
"He was our guy," said Henry Alexander, a 23-year-old from Miami. "We've never had a player like him. He electrified every time he came out and played. It's really, really sad. Crazy to think, that was the last time I saw him play, after the Washington game."
Fernandez's final start came on Sept. 20, and the All-Star pitched eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win over the Nationals.
"It's unreal," Stanton said. "It's everyone doing what they can to show what he meant to them, in their own way. It's very cool we can write whatever you want. If you didn't know him, maybe that's all you have to show."
The Marlins players and staff will bid their farewells to Fernandez on Thursday during a private funeral for just the family, friends and those in the organization.
What did Fernandez mean to so many?
"Happiness," said Zafiro Guerrero, an 18-year-old who signed the memorial wall. "He pushed the team to do better. He's just a happy person. … I was born and raised in Miami. He was our city, basically."
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.