He wears her initials on his cleats and glove.
Devona Denise Strange.
Wherever Dee Gordon goes on a baseball diamond, his mother is right there with him.
Whenever he steals a base, she’s along for the ride. Whenever he gobbles up a ground ball, she’s in on the play.
But in spirit. Only in spirit.
The last time he saw her alive, she was walking him to his bus stop and sending him off to school. When the bus brought him back later that day, police cars and ambulances — lights flashing — were parked outside his apartment complex.
Gordon was 6, but remembers it like it was yesterday, all too vividly.
Gordon, the Marlins’ All-Star second baseman who is challenging for the league batting and stolen base titles and a possible Gold Glove, tells the story while seated in an empty dugout, looking out at the diamond a few hours before a recent game.
“The neighborhood in St. Petersburg I grew up in was kind of rough,” Gordon said. “Police cars were blocking the entrance. They weren’t letting anybody in. So you knew something bad happened, that somebody got robbed or killed.”
What Gordon didn’t know — and what he wouldn’t discover until hours later after friends and relatives stalled for time to deliver the heartbreaking news — was that his mother was dead, shot to death by a boyfriend.
When he stepped off the bus, two of his mother’s co-workers intercepted him and drove him to a McDonald’s.
“So I remember going to McDonald’s, and I can tell you exactly what I got,” he said. “I got an ice cream cone and a small fries. Didn’t go for the Big Mac.”
After hours had passed, though, Gordon began to ask questions, began to worry that his mother would be angry that he hadn’t returned home on schedule.
“I’m, like, ‘Why am I not home yet?’ ” he said. “I kept saying my mom’s going to be mad that I’m not home. When I said that, peopled started crying, and I was, like, ‘What’s going on?’ ”
Finally, an aunt pulled aside and told him.
“It was weird because it didn’t hit me until later,” he said. “Like, I even fell asleep at her funeral. It didn’t hit me until about a week later and I realized, wow, my mom’s gone, and she’s never coming back.”
The boyfriend served five years in prison for manslaughter.
Gordon went to live near Orlando with his father, Tom Gordon, a pitcher for 21 years in the majors.
Despite his small size — Gordon is a human toothpick — he blossomed into a high school basketball standout before switching to baseball.
But he never forgot about his mom and thinks about her now.
“A lot,” he said softly while watching a grounds crew go about their pregame ritual of grooming the field and laying chalk lines.
After the Marlins landed him in a trade with the Dodgers in December, Gordon was asked to list his hobbies and interests, the sort of details that are put in the team’s media guide.
He was also asked if he had any interest in giving back to the community in some way.
That’s when he created “Flash of Hope,” a program designed to help children who have lost a parent from domestic violence.
“I went through it, and when I went through it, I didn’t have anybody,” Gordon said. “Nobody could relate to me. So now I just want to relate to kids and give back my time.”
Once a month, Gordon — in partnership with the Florida State Attorney’s office — is paired with a child who lost a parent. He allows the child to spend time with him inside the clubhouse with the rest of the Marlins players and on the field during batting practice before games.
Some of them talk about their loss, Gordon said. Some don’t.
“You don’t really talk about their situation much unless they want to talk about it,” he said. “I just want to show them that the world isn’t over for them, that they’re going to be all right.”
Gordon wants to expand the program next season. On Thursday, the Marlins will hold Domestic Violence Protection Night. Gordon will be the spokesperson.
“I wanted to always do something for kids,” he said.
Gordon figures he can set a good example for them.
“I was a terrible kid,” Gordon said. “I was really bad. I don’t want people to think of me in a negative light, so it’s hard for me to say the things I once did. But I was getting in fights. I stole a lot. I was just a product of my environment, I guess.”
After his mother was killed, though, Gordon changed.
“The way I see it is God didn’t want me to be in that environment,” Gordon said. “So to get me out of that environment, he took away something very close to me.”
Gordon watches the grounds crew apply the finishing touches, before he must return to the clubhouse to put on his uniform, lace up his cleats and grab his glove — the items bearing his mother’s initials.
“I think she would be proud of me,” Gordon said. “The man I’ve become.”