Rojas honors Fernández on tragic date

September 26th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was one of the more emotional trips around the bases for shortstop following his leadoff homer in the third inning of the Marlins' 7-3 loss to the Rays on Saturday night.

Sept. 25, 2021, marked the five-year anniversary of the death of former Marlins ace José Fernández in a tragic boating accident that also took the lives of Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Macías.

"It was emotional for me," Rojas said prior to Sunday's series finale at Tropicana Field. "I had it on my mind since the morning, and I'm always going to talk to my guys that experienced with us that day, and that experience and that moment. We're always going to share something really special because that team overcame a lot of adversity, especially that time, as an organization. We have to talk it out and actually do something that maybe other teams haven't done in baseball and dealing with that. Not just your ace, but the face of the franchise at the moment, and the guy who everybody loved in Miami. He was more than just the baseball player, he was an icon for the city of Miami and whole South Florida because everybody followed this guy. It was an emotional day not just for me but for a lot of people."

Former Marlin Giancarlo Stanton also homered on Saturday, rocketing a go-ahead grand slam over the Green Monster in the eighth inning for the contending Yankees. Rojas texted Stanton after the game about doing so on "Niño Day."

As his homer sunk in, Rojas recalled an exchange Fernández and then-Rays third baseman Evan Longoria had during Fernández's final start of the 2015 season. Longoria had gone deep off Fernández, who later went to the end of the dugout to tease Longoria about hitting the ball so far.

"That's the kind of things that I keep remembering about José, about the person that he was, the light that he was in the clubhouse," Rojas said. "I still can't believe that that happened, and that's something that we always gotta remember. Life is a precious thing, and you have to just enjoy every single moment. Enjoy your friends, love your family, hug them, and every time we think about things like that, we think about how much we miss him."

Rojas, who was dealt to the Marlins in December 2014, was teammates with Fernández for two years. At the time, Rojas was a utility player. Now, he is the club's unofficial captain and the longest-tenured player, poised for his eighth season with the organization in 2022.

Fernández, whose journey to the United States from Cuba has been well-chronicled, became a prep star at Braulio Alonso High School in nearby Tampa. The Marlins selected him a decade ago this past June. That significance wasn't lost on Rojas.

"Things line up sometimes, you know?" Rojas said. "I'm not going to say that it wasn't because of him watching from above, but it was good sensation that I could have done that. After, I kind of gave him a little tribute that it was on his memory and what it means for this team and for us as players. I still think about him and think about how I want to play the game the way that he did."