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At Visitation And After, Miami Remembers Marlins Pitcher José Fernández

Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
Fans and community members line up to pay tribute to Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández during a public viewing at St. Brendan Catholic Church in Miami on Wednesday.";

José Fernández's visitation was Wednesday.


Outside St. Brendan Catholic Church, police shepherded throngs of mourners across Southwest 87th Avenue; traffic was backed up for blocks. A news helicopter flew overhead and an encampment of reporters occupied the church lawn. Cameramen circled a young boy in a black Miami Marlins T-shirt, weeping in the embrace of a woman who appeared to be his mother.


But inside, the church was quiet.




Fernández, 24, and two friends, Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero, died early Sunday morning after their boat crashed into a jetty near Miami Beach. Over the past week, Miami has turned out to mourn him. A rising star pitcher for the Miami Marlins. A bighearted teammate and role model.


A symbol of perseverance for Cubans and Cuban-Americans.


It took Fernández four tries to make it to the United States from Cuba. On that fourth try, in the dark, he saved  a woman from drowning -- discovering later that the woman was his mother, Maritza.


Maritza, who mourns with Fernández's grandmother, Olga, and his girlfriend, Maria Arias -- pregnant with the couple's first child. With Fernández's teammates -- their hands on the hearse that drove through Miami on a farewell tour Wednesday afternoon. With Dee Gordon, the second baseman who hit a home run during the Marlins' first at-bat after Fernández's death.



Credit Carl Juste / Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Marlins players pay their respects to teammate José Fernández prior to the hearse departing Marlins Park on Wednesday.

At the visitation on Wednesday night, Fernández’s closed casket was adorned with a massive bouquet of red roses. Stands on each side held American and Cuban flags formed of red, white and blue flowers. Mourners quietly shuffled past pictures of Fernández -- smiling with kids, hugging Marlins manager Don Mattingly, yelling in what looked like victory.


Faces lit up to the questions: “¿Quiénfue? ¿Quiénes? Who was he? Who is he?” The answers resonate.


Outside the church, walking hand in hand, Obed and Gladys Millan stop to show a picture of them with Fernández.


They struggle to find the English word for when it was taken.


"At the beginning of the tempor-- tempora--"




"This year," Obed says. "At that particular time, I told him, I wish God bless you and prosper you. And God did, but, you know, young people pass on."


"He was improving every day and he had a big heart," Gladys says.


"He smiled with everybody," Obed says. "He was not only a good athlete, he was also a very nice person."


They say they went to five or six Marlins games this season - going back, Gladys says, to see her favorite player.


People at the visitation went back to see Fernández, too. After exiting the church, each visitor was offered a copy of the Diario Las Américas newspaper. They were shepherded down Southwest 32nd Street by police officers, instructed to cross the 87th Avenue intersection and were expected to leave from there.


But, newspapers in hand, some mourners got back in line and re-entered the church.


"José Fernández represents an ideal," says Obed Millan. "This ideal of: freedom can be reached."


Cubans still on the island. Latin American immigrants establishing lives in South Florida. Hispanic millennials who grew up here. Boys in black Marlins T-shirts. Miami Marlins fans.


Freedom can be reached.

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