Marcell Ozuna remained stoic during the Marlins’ first public appearance following the death of Jose Fernandez on Sunday.
Following Monday’s game, Ozuna said he turned down an invitation from Fernandez after Saturday night’s game to go out with him and join him for a spin on his boat.
A few hours later, Fernandez was killed as were two other individuals, Emilio Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero when the boat crashed into the Government Cut north jetty.
“That night I told him, ‘Don’t go out,’” Ozuna said. “Everybody knew he was crazy about that boat and loved being out on the water. I told him I couldn’t go out that night because I had the kids and my wife waiting for me.
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“He told me if I didn’t hear from him by 10 a.m. [Sunday morning] to call him and wake him up so he could get back to the ballpark on time for the game. I told him, ‘yeah no problem, I’ll call you.’ I woke up Sunday and that’s when I found out. I cried and cried.
“When I got here [to Marlins Park] and saw everyone so serious, I just shut down,” Ozuna said. “I didn’t think my brother would be gone so soon.”
On Monday night, first during the national anthem and later during a tribute Ozuna and his teammates made following the Marlins’ 7-3 victory over the Mets at Marlins Park, he finally dropped his guard.
Ozuna and his teammates circled the mound, took off their caps, raised them high first and then placed them on the mound and knelt on the ground.
As he rubbed the dirt on the part of the mound where Fernandez’s No. 16 was painted, Ozuna wept uncontrollably as teammates consoled him.
“This is something no one could have ever expected,” Ozuna said. “That someone like Jose with so much joy and so much life was going to leave us so soon.
“[Dang], it hurts so much to lose my brother. I still look at the [clubhouse] door and look at his locker and I feel like he’s still here. I still feel like he’s going to walk through that door.”
Ozuna was as close to Fernandez as anyone on the team.
The two were teammates in the minors with the Marlins’ Single A Jupiter affiliate in 2012 and later made their respective major-league debuts during the 2013 season.
The two developed a close bond as did their respective families.
“Jose and I were always together all the time,” Ozuna said. “His family is like my family. He’s my brother from another mother. We’d go play dominoes or hang out or go eat together on days off.”
Ozuna said Fernandez told him often in recent weeks that he was very excited about becoming a father.
On a recent road trip, Ozuna said Fernandez asked him what fatherhood was like and what to expect with his girlfriend’s pregnancy.
Ozuna said Fernandez had shown him the sonogram photos recently as well.
Ozuna and his wife have three children of their own.
“I hope one day I get to meet his daughter and get the chance to tell her what her father was like,” Ozuna said. “He loved my son and he was so excited to see his baby girl born. I was so happy for him. My brother was going to have his baby. It hurts me so much that he won’t get to see her grow up.”
Ozuna stood in front of his locker Monday night just two spots over from Fernandez’s locker, which was still stocked with plenty of his jerseys and a flower placed over one of them.
The empty feeling his absence has created is something Ozuna said has been the hardest thing to deal with over the past couple of days.
“For us, we feel like we lost the world,” Ozuna said. “Jose was a part of me. It’s left an empty feeling so big….just look at the way this team is feeling now.
“I hope to God I will see Jose again one day, see him smile and have him tell me, ‘My brother, my big bear, let’s go have some fun. I love you. I’m good.’”