Anytime former Miami Hurricanes Yonder Alonso or Yasmani Grandal have returned to South Florida to face the Marlins, it’s always been a happy, special event for their friends and family.
But Friday’s series opener at Marlins Park was a bit more emotional — particularly for Alonso and his family. Shortly before spring training ended last month, Alonso said his 18-year-old cousin, Javier Martinez Alonso, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Miami.
Alonso said his cousin was on his way to pick up his paycheck at work in the afternoon when he and his best friend, who was at the wheel, were hit by a car. Alonso said his cousin was ejected from the motorcycle, and his cousin’s best friend survived, but broke his leg and his hand.
“It’s been a tough couple weeks, we’re hanging in there,” Alonso said. “We’re a real close family, too. There’s only 10 or 12 of us. He was part of the family I brought over about three or four years ago — my mom’s sister’s kid.
“I saw him the day he was born in Cuba, and I saw him grow up. It’s hard, man. Any time you lose somebody, a young kid like that, it breaks your heart. The saddest part is his girlfriend’s father had already picked up the check. He didn’t even need to make the trip. He just didn’t know.”
Alonso, who returned home for three days when he learned of the news but couldn’t attend his cousin’s funeral because he had to return to Arizona for training, said his family — including his grieving aunt — were to sit near the on-deck circle behind the Padres dugout Friday night.
Grandal, whose family is close with Alonso and his family, said he bought about 60 tickets for his family and friends to watch Friday’s game.
“Definitely sad times and a sad story,” Grandal said. “All Cuban families are tight, so I felt it, too. It was definitely a hard time for him.”
Saturday’s game at Marlins Park — University of Miami family night — will feature four of the 19 current Cuban-born players in the majors: Alonso, Grandal, Marlins starter Jose Fernandez and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
Both Alonso and Grandal say they’re looking forward to facing the Marlins’ 21-year-old right-hander.
“It’s going to be a special day,” Alonso said. “I remember when I first got to the big leagues when there were only 12 or 13 of us. Jose is a special pitcher. His whole story is special. I think all of the Cubans who get here, their stories are special.”
• Hechavarria, who opened the season hitting .500 (7 for 14) in the four-game series against the Rockies, hit leadoff for the first time this season Friday night.
Manager Mike Redmond said he wanted to give the left-handed-hitting Christian Yelich (.158) a break because the Marlins were facing another left-handed starter.
“I still feel great about him in that leadoff spot and feel he’s going to make the adjustment,” Redmond said. “It’s just going to take a little bit of time. He has to stay with it.”
> So what has helped Hechavarria, who hit .227 in his first full major-league season last year, look better at the plate this season? A tip from hitting coach Frank Menechino regarding hand placement.
“In spring training he said he saw me too tight, that I was a good stance, but my hands were too close to my body,” Hechavarria said. “[Menechino] said to try to give it a little space. At the beginning I was a little uncomfortable, but the more I did it the more relaxed I felt. I started hitting the ball better, felt better hitting it and saw it better.”
Menechino said the hand adjustment “freed” Hechavarria’s swing up.
“What he’s doing is he’s getting good pitches to hit and he’s not chasing the ball,” Menechino said. “He’s not panicking with two strikes either. He’s sticking with his approach and the little mechanical change we made.”
• Saturday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. San Diego Padres RHP Andrew Cashner (0-0, 1.50), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
• Sunday: Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 3.00) vs. Padres RHP Ian Kennedy (0-1, 5.40), 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park.