Like much of MLB, Freeman still coming to grips with Fernandez death

Before the Braves left Miami Sunday afternoon, after their game against the Marlins was cancelled following the tragic death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, Freddie Freeman went to the Marlins team store at the stadium and bought a Fernandez jersey. He wore it on the bus ride to the Miami airport and flight to Atlanta.

“Least I could do,” said Freeman, who was in a state of shock and disbelief Sunday after learning of the death of Fernandez, whom he called the best pitcher in baseball along with Clayton Kershaw, and someone he’d gotten to know over the past four years and called “one of the best people I’ve ever met.”

The Braves let the Marlins use their rented team bus in Miami so that Miami players could go en masse to be with Fernandez’s mother Sunday. As the Braves were leaving for the airport in another bus the afternoon, Marlins players were returning to the ballpark after seeing Fernandez’s mother.

“Every time you’d kind of relax, another emotion hit you,” Freeman said of seeing them return.

While all of baseball mourned Fernandez, one of the sport’s biggest young stars, for the Braves in particular it’s something they’ll never forget, because they were there, many of them on the team bus headed to Marlins Park Sunday morning when news first broke of Fernandez’s death.

They had a Fernandez No. 16 Braves jersey made and hung it in the dugout for Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies, the Braves’ first since the pitcher’s death. The Braves planned a moment of silence for Fernandez before the game.

Former Braves outfielder Matt Diaz, who now does some broadcasting for the Braves, was at church Sunday when he heard that his friend and former Marlins teammate had died. Diaz befriended Fernandez at 2013 spring training when Diaz was 35 in his final season and Fernandez was a rookie.

He helped Fernandez understand clubhouse decorum after Fernandez privately requested the assistance.

Diaz, too, was initially in a state of stunned disbelief after hearing the news of the early morning boat crash.

“He played like I hope we all could live, full of life and knowing that it wasn’t forever,” Diaz said. “They always say the good ones get taken so young, and that’s so true. So true.”

The Braves were off Monday, a day when Freeman was named National League Player of the Week for the third time since mid-June. He wasn’t in much mood to celebrate, and after turning on the Marlins-Mets game Monday night another wave of emotion came over him when he saw tributes to Fernandez and especially Dee Gordon’s home run.

Gordon, a left-handed hitter, led off the first innin wearing Fernandez’s batting helmet and standing in the right-handed batter’s box for the first pitch in tribute. Then he switched helmets, moved to the other side of the plate, and smashed a 2-0 pitch from Bartolo Colon for his first homer of the season, which Gordon said was the longest he’d ever hit, even in batting practice.

He cried as he ran around the bases, and Marlins players were overcome with emotion in the dugout.

“It’s a tragedy that really still hasn’t sunk in,” Freeman said Tuesday. “Still waiting to wake up from that nightmare. I watched some of the game yesterday with the Marlins and Mets, and it just brought tears to your eyes. Very, very emotional. Happy for the Marlins that they won that game….

“You know, that needed to happen, something like that. They were all crying in the top of the first (inning) still. A lot of people were really pulling for them to win that game. Obviously the Mets want to win all their games, but it’s just like the Braves back (facing the Mets after) Sept. 11, I think that’s one game they don’t mind losing.”

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