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Big Heart in the Big Apple

José Fernández set the gold standard wherever he played, especially in New York.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets

José Fernández was an incredible soul that touched many lives all around the world and I would like to just speak on a little of what he meant to me.

I am from New York and have lived there my whole life. Baseball has been an important part in my life, from growing up playing it to watching it and learning the ins and outs.

My dad brought me into the New York Met fan club at birth, but something happened when I was seven — the then Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees four games to two in the 2003 World Series.

My older brother was a Yankees fan so naturally I had to root for the Marlins, and in that series my idea of baseball and excitement changed forever. The then 23-year-old Josh Beckett was sent out by Jack McKeon on three days rest to face the Yankees at Yankee stadium in game six. That game would ultimately finish the series and bring the Marlins their second World Series title. I have been a Marlins fan ever since that day and will be for the rest of my life.

I have always been drawn to pitchers. While yes, I fell in love with certain hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Willingham, Logan Morrison, Dan Uggla and others, there were three pitchers that took me through the Marlins seasons from 2004 to 2017.

It started with Dontrelle Willis, as he led me through the early years, catching my imagination with that mesmerizing high leg kick and brutal power at the plate (I mean who could forget his 22 win season in 2005). Willis was gone by 2008 but Josh Johnson was hitting his stride, and he took over, leading me through the next few years. Johnson always put on a show when he pitched against the New York Mets and I would continue to imitate his windups just like I had done for Willis years before. Johnson's final year with the Marlins was 2012, and while his numbers had started to decline, it was sad to see him go.

José Fernández came into the picture the following year, capturing my heart and admiration. While there are many things I could speak about and look at, I would like to specifically look at the four games José played against the Mets at Citi Field. I was lucky enough to attend all four of his career games at Citi Field and it is something I will never forget.

José debuted for the Marlins on April 7, 2013 against the Mets at Citi Field at the ripe age of 20. The kid pitched five innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts. From the moment José stepped onto the rubber until he was taken out in the fifth inning, there was a certain energy that filled the stadium that day. I can still remember the Met fans around me grumbling about how they were going to have to deal with this pitcher for the years to come.

The electricity and excitement José brought to the mound every time he pitched was incredible. Fernandez brought out the kid in everyone at the stadium. There was no clearer moment of this than when José hopped off the mound after his first major league inning (a 1-2-3 inning).

Baseball fans knew they were seeing something special when José took the mound, and while no one wants to watch their home team lose, the Mets fans at Citi Field were always engaged when José pitched.

José would come back to Queens on June 8th and pitch another commanding game against the Mets, tossing six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts. This time around the Mets fans in the stadium knew what to expect, and with Matt Harvey opposite of José, everyone expected a great duel. José rarely disappointed when it came to these, and he was best at wearing his heart on his sleeve and pitching with all his heart.

San Francisco Giants v Miami Marlins
Rarely without a smile.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

José would next pitch at the home of the Mets on April 12, 2016 after having gone through Tommy John surgery and a few other injuries in between. The pitching dominance would continue for the young man as he posted five innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts.

He would return one last time on August 29th when he pitched six scoreless innings while striking out six. José Fernández always pitched well at Citi Field and he commanded the attention like no pitcher I had ever seen before. When José was pitching in the Big Apple, there was a buzz in the air.

The numbers are nice and José always shined with his extraordinary skill, but there was always something beyond that. José was not just a baseball player, he was the little kid in all of us. The pure joy he got from playing the game rubbed off on everyone at Citi Field when he pitched.

Baseball was fun when José pitched. The man loved life and everyone could see it. No matter how hard Mets fans wanted to boo, there was always a mutual respect for José in Flushing, Queens. José did something special. He brought people together.

As one of probably only a couple hundred Marlins fans at Citi Field, I always felt like I was home when José was pitching. Fernández was only four years older than me and every time I watched him pitch in New York I felt like I was in the game myself. The relationship José created with his fans and fans of the opposing team was never just about baseball. It was about life, and he showed us all what it meant to live every moment to the fullest.

The first game that was played after José Fernández’s passing was against the Mets in Marlins Park, and while I was watching it at home on TV, my mind was elsewhere. The Mets showed the utmost class that day and it was an incredible sight to see.

Something had changed in baseball forever. A little piece of the game was gone.

I still have trouble going back and looking at clips of that game and seeing the raw emotion of everyone on that field, in the booth and in the stands. I sat there during the opening ceremony with my eyes closed, tears flying, and I was immediately brought back to Citi Field, going through all my memories of watching José Fernández play and enjoying every moment of it with Marlins and Mets fans.

When José was on the mound we all lived life to the fullest. Citi Field will always have a special place in my heart because of the way they cared for José like their own and the moments he created there. José Fernández was in a world of his own and will forever be remembered as the kid who loved baseball.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets
Baseball is Family.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images
New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

From all New Yorkers, I want to say “Thank You, José” for always putting on a show, bringing us into your world and making us feel welcome.