No young player with such little experience had more upside, was more destined for greatness and was more capable and willing to touch other people’s lives through his passion for baseball and zest for life.
On Monday, a baseball game was played in Miami that amounted to a nine-inning memorial — Miami teammates all wore Fernandez 16 jerseys, got on-field greetings from the Mets before the game and encircled the mound after the final pitch, tossing their caps on the mound — that was perfect, a constant flow of tears and cheers for the beloved 24-year-old who died in a boating accident early Sunday morning.
When 170-pound Dee Gordon led off the first inning by impersonating Fernandez’s right-handed stance on the first pitch, then switched to his normal left-handed stance and somehow hit a home run, it became the baseball highlight of the year, no matter what happens in October.
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Gordon has no power. He had eight homers in 2,295 plate appearances before Monday. He was emotionally taxed a day after his good friend died. Yet he collected enough energy from his inner self, his inner spirit, to reach the upper deck, the farthest he remembers hitting a ball. It was unexplainable and beautiful.
Gordon cried when he crossed the plate, signaled to the sky and embraced each teammate. “I don’t have kids,” he said softly, “so that’s the best moment of my life, to hit a home run for him.”
Fernandez tried four times to flee Cuba before succeeding at age 15, having been imprisoned for his failed attempts. When a woman fell overboard, it was Fernandez who jumped in and saved her, not immediately knowing the woman was his mother.
Fernandez inspired many and was a major influence in the Cuban community. His joy for the game was indisputable, his smile infectious, his story everlasting.
John Shea is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @JohnSheaHey
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