When star pitcher Jose Fernandez met the great aunt of self-proclaimed Marlins superfan Dori Amador after a ballgame as the players were leaving, he immediately called her his “girlfriend.”
Never mind that the great aunt was 92 years old and he merely 20, Fernandez knew how to make his fans feel special.
“She would think she really was his girlfriend — it’s just the way he would make you feel,” Amador said. “I felt like I was part of his family.”
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That initial meeting, in Fernandez’s rookie year with the Marlins in 2013, was when Amador fell in love with the player, who never missed a chance to ask about his novia (girlfriend), Amador’s great aunt, Maria Walled.
Amador, a Miami baker who has been a Marlins season ticket holder since Fernandez joined the team, said it was Fernandez’s love for his family, particularly for his mother and his grandmother, who at the time was still in Cuba, that made him different.
“I didn’t see him as a baseball player,” Amador said on Wednesday, three days after the 24-year-old pitcher’s death. “I saw him as somebody who loved my aunt, loved his mother and then loved the game — and his fans.”
She always thought Walled may have reminded Fernandez of his own grandmother, Olga Fernandez, the woman he permanently brought to the United States from Cuba recently and for whom he bought a house in West Kendall.
While other fans joined in a public processional that began at Marlins Park and culminated at St. Brendan Catholic Church in Westchester, Amador couldn’t bring herself to go along. It was simply too painful.
Fernandez was the happy-go-lucky Cuban boy who signed every t-shirt, every hat, every magazine and every baseball she handed him. He was the player who asked about her now-95-year-old great aunt. He was one of her favorites.
And she was one of “Jose’s Heroes,” sitting in Section 31, Row 2 for two years as one of a gaggle of fans who would dress up as superheroes on the days he would start as pitcher. She was Super Marlins Girl and her husband Eduardo Super Marlins Man. She had about 15 Jose Fernandez shirts, knew his mom Maritza and made him a sign when he underwent surgery on his pitching elbow in 2014.
Amador promised herself she wouldn’t sit in her seat in Jose’s section until he came back from surgery, which he did with distinction, homering and pitching a masterpiece in his triumphant return.
I didn’t see him as a baseball player. I saw him as somebody who loved my aunt, loved his mother and then loved the game — and his fans.
And she was the fan who hoisted a congratulatory sign on the occasion of his first birthday as a member of the Marlins. He was just 21 then.
“When I saw him after the game he said, ‘I was waiting to see who was going to show up at Marlins Park with a sign, and I knew it was going to be you,’ ” Amador recalled.
On his last game, on Saturday, Amador was over in Section 19, Row 3. She spent most of the game staring at him. In the dugout, he was like a “little bunny,” she said, recalling how he ran back and forth, jumped up and down, smiled and gave high-fives.
She waved. He nodded back, “Hi.”
Then she woke up Sunday morning to a call from another Marlins fan.
“I started screaming,” she said.
She hasn’t been able to see her great aunt since the news of Fernandez’s death but spoke to her Wednesday. Walled said she was watching the news on Joseito and weeping.
By Monday morning, Amador had arranged some of her Fernandez memorabilia into a memorial near her dining room: a #JoseDay sign, an orange All-Star jersey, a hat she bought Sunday on a quick trip to the park with Fernandez’s No. 16, a bouquet of flowers and a poster with photos of the player that read #CelebrateJose and #RememberJose, which she took to the game that he would have started on Monday had he lived.
At the ballpark later that day, on an orange wall where fans wrote messages to the player, she added: Miss you Papo, Mama Fish.