MIAMI — Braves and Marlins players and managers reacted with shock and numbing sadness Sunday to the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez in a boating accident.
** FREDDIE FREEMAN, Braves first baseman
“I’m at a loss for words. Utter disbelief, shock. Hoping to wake up from this nightmare. One of the best people I’ve ever met. Unbelievable competitor. It was a treat for me to be able to get to know him over the last few years.”
On Fernandez’s ebullient personality and competitiveness:
“It’s a personality that’s very rare in sports. Being able to see it every year, it’s a personality that you get drawn to. He’s always smiling, always having fun. He loved playing the game of baseball. Every time he got on that mound he brought the best out of you. Listening to stories in that clubhouse, he brought the best out of everybody. The people in the community. It’s not only a tough loss for baseball, but this whole country, really. Cuba, everything. It’s a very sad day.”
“That smile you’re not going to see anymore, the personality, the love of the game, the love of everything, really. Just yesterday… He was so accessible, too. The Marlins were done with batting practice and he was still down here talking to everybody, having a great time. That’s something that’s going to be missed.”
“The first time I ever faced him was in Atlanta, and I got a hit off him the first two times. He was just kind of jawing with me during the game, and that personality…. A lot of pitchers, when you get a hit off them they get mad at you. But he’s smiling at you, having a good time. You get drawn to him. Obviously we’ve had a couple of scuffles over the years, but you just talk to him about that and see how much energy he has. It’s always been fun to play against him, and obviously every time you faced him it just brings the best out of you.
“The first time I faced him he threw a first-pitch change-up and I hit it for a home run. The next at-bat he threw a first-pitch heater and I hit it for a double off the wall, and he was just pointing at me, like what are you doing, how are you doing this? Those things I’ll never forget. Every time you get a hit off him he’s always smiling at you. It was just a fun competition. It makes you better because he’s having so much fun out there, you just kind of forget about, really, everything, you just want to go up there and compete and have fun with him. He puts on a great show every time he pitches. It was an honor to be a part of it.”…
“You know you’re something special when you’ve got your own day – every time he pitches it’s Jose Day. Hundred-mile-an-hour fastball, curveball that just buckles knees, and just 24. He was well on his way to being a Hall of Famer. Easy.”
“Getting to know him the last couple of years, it was undeniable what he brought to this game, this community.”
**BRIAN SNITKER, Braves interim manager
His thoughts some two hours after first leaning that Fernandez had died
“Still in shock. Disbelief. Everybody in there (in visiting clubhouse at Marlins Park) is just kind of staring at each other, it seems like. Biggest thing, I’m a parent. A young man like that, it’s just hard to comprehend.”
“The excitement that he brought to the ballpark, the game, the challenge. That’s the biggest thing, I think, because he was one of the best in the game. You look forward to playing against the best. The kid had a lot of energy, unbelievable talent, brought excitement to the game. I know he lit this place up. It’s just a sad, tragic thing.”
On Fernandez being 24 and having a baby on the way:
“That’s the whole thing. I just sit there as a parent and think about how horrible that is. Family member, the mother, the baby…it’s heartbreaking. You just go numb when you hear something like that. It’s just … it’s horrible.”
“It’s just hard to comprehend pretty much. You think about his mother and grandmother, and his family. How horrible this is for them. Your heart breaks for them. To lose a child is the worst possible thing that can happen. Just keep them in our prayers.”
“You could tell the kid loved to play baseball and loved to compete. The talent was off the charts. He scared you on the mound, he scared you in the batter’s box. He was a complete player. You talk about the young stars of the game, he’s at the top of the heap, and the energy and the excitement he brought to the game, especially in this community here. He was perfect for here. It’s sad, tragic.”
On Braves’ players feelings about Fernandez:
“They respected everything he brought.”
“A young life was lost. So much to live for, so much to give.”
**TYLER FLOWERS, Braves catcher
On hearing about Fernandez’s death Sunday morning, after seeing him in Marlins dugout Saturday night:
“Someone you saw last night, I think that always makes it a little more surreal for myself. Hearing something like this, it’s amazing that 12 hours ago he was across the way cheering for his team. It’s a tough morning, I can only imagine what his teammates and his family are going through.”
On respect that Braves had for Fernandez
“Yeah, absolutely. He’s one of those guys you face — obviously he’s got a lot of emotion, extreme competitor, when you’re playing against him you want to beat him, just like he wants to beat you. But I imagine when he’s on your side you absolutely love him, and you love that kind of makeup. I’ve played against guys that were similar, where you’re like, man, I’d love to beat this guy. Then all of a sudden you’re playing with them and you see what they’re all about. They’re quality people, they’re just competitive and emotional when they’re in the game.
“That’s when they’re having fun. That’s one thing you can’t take away from that guy. I mean, he was always smiling. Even at our place, he came up to hit after he gave up four or five (runs) and he was like, ‘Man, I have a hard time here. I always give up runs here, I don’t know what it is.’ But still making light of the situation, having fun playing a game. I think that’s something we can all take away from it.”
On holding Fernandez back after the pitcher was upset over nearly getting hit by a pitch from Braves reliever Jose Ramirezd on Sept. 14:
“He had a right to be upset in that moment. It is saddening, though. Even in the midst of that little confrontation he brings up his family and his daughter. That’s something that kind of hit me this morning – last time I talked to him he was pointing out his daughter to me, saying that’s why I’m so upset. Of course I understood, I’ve got one myself — three kids, one daughter. That’s why I told him, I get it man. It’s definitely sad.”
**TYRELL JENKINS, Braves pitcher
On finding out during Braves’ bus ride to ballpark Sunday that Fernandez had died
“It just sucks. Outside of baseball, it just sucks in general. I hate it for his mom, his grandmom, his 3-year-old daughter, his kid he has on the way. That’s my biggest thing is family. He’s leaving them behind. Something he loved to do, get on a boat and go fishing, and it just happened that … it just happened.”
“Overall, just a terrible day. He was almost like one of our teammates, you see him enjoying the game over there. He has that energy in him and that fire in him. I know the last time we faced those guys that things got a little chippy, but that’s part of the game. Everyone still respects him as a player and a person. It just sucks. He was going to be one of the great ones. He was a great one, even after missing a year for Tommy John. It’s a tough day for the Marlins organization, Miami, his family, and also the other two guys and their families. Overall, it just sucks.”
“I don’t cope with death very well anyway, so, it’s just like, I don’t know. It’s almost like it’s not real. I talked to some guys over there, (Marlins players Xavier) Scruggs and Frenchy (Jeff Francoeur), and they said they got a call at like 7 this morning that they had a team meeting. They didn’t know what it was about because the news didn’t break till, like, 9. They were all there and someone goes, where’s Jose? They didn’t know yet; that’s when they found out. It’s heartbreaking.
“We found out on the bus. I was actually the first one to see it on Twitter and I was like, this can’t be true, and then it was verified. I showed everybody and they were like, no way. It doesn’t seem real.”
** DON MATTINGLY, Marlins manager
On what he sees when he thinks of Fernandez:
“I see such a little boy…. (Pauses, choked up.) The way he played, there was joy with him when he played. Because as mad as he would make you with some of the stuff that he would do, you’d just see that little kid that you…that you see when you watch kids play Little League, or something like that. That’s the joy that Jose played with. The passion that he felt about playing, that’s what I’ll think of.”
**MARTIN PRADO, Marlins third baseman
“It’s difficult for me and for everybody. When I came to the Marlins last year I knew, one of the main things about the Marlins was Jose. And just to be part of the city every time he played — it was his day, he didn’t care who he faced, he didn’t care who we were playing. One of the guys, he told one of his teammates that the last game he pitched against the Nationals was his best game he ever pitched, and now he’s gone. And … it’s hard.”
“He made an impact on every single person on this team. In different ways. I understand the fact that we have to play games and we’re going to be professional about it, but deep in our hearts there’s a lot of pain. Some way we’ve got to overcome that, but right now it’s something that … it’s hard.”
**FREDI GONZALEZ, former Braves manager and Cuba native, was in Miami over the weekend for a luncheon honoring former Cuban players. He said of Fernandez:
“What he meant to the community, to the baseball team, he was the face of the (Marlins) organization…. First of all, the tragic loss to the family. And the organization, the city, major league baseball, because he was one of those guys — people paid to watch him pitch. Especially here in Miami.”
On an incident during Fernandez’s rookie season when he exchanged words with Brian McCann and other Braves:
“The young man respected the game. He came over and talked to McCann and a few other guys and apologized. He respected the game. He played with a passion. You hated to face him, but you’d love to him. One of those guys who genuinely loved the game.
** DAVID SAMSON, Marlins president
“His story is a story that will be told forever. You talk about someone whose personality could out-shine his talent – normally it’s the other way around. And in this case his love of family and the game, and being Jose, that’s a lot of the stories that are being told around Miami now, is stories of Jose being Jose.”…
“There are no words that come to mind. There’s no words of consolation. There’s prayers and thoughts toward his family, for his soon-to-be-born daughter. And you recognize how precious life is, and how taking things for granted is a poor man’s game.”
“I want to say to Jose’s family, the love that we have for them…. We were all just reminded of the moment when Jose and his grandmother were reunited. There’s so many layers to this story. Jose got caught three times trying to come to this country to play baseball, and his love of the game, his passion for the game, his respect of the game, and his love for this organization and his teammates, above all, his family above all, you just think about all those things.”
“This is not about today or tomorrow, Jose is a member of this family for all time. And a member of the city of Miami, all of South Florida, Cuban Americans – his story is representative of a story of hope, and of love and faith, and no one will ever let that story die.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.