Barry Jackson

Marlins’ handling of Fernandez tragedy draws praise

Jose Fernandez during a Marlins game aginst the Yankees in April at Marlins Park.
Jose Fernandez during a Marlins game aginst the Yankees in April at Marlins Park. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

With Jose Fernandez’s funeral scheduled for Thursday, sharing more reaction and emotion from inside the Marlins clubhouse this week:

• Pitcher Tom Koehler was a particularly eloquent voice on Wednesday.

Koehler said players have sat in the clubhouse and told stories about Jose this week, with a couple going out to smoke cigars and reminisce.

“Most stories ended in laughter,” Koehler said. “Can’t believe the stuff he did in a harmless way.”

Koehler mentioned how Fernandez would “field ground balls [during spring drills] and do it with flash.” And Koehler would say: “Can we please just do it right one time and then go back to having fun?”

Koehler said: “I’m thinking about the spring and how I’m not going to have the opportunity to yell at him. I will miss that back and forth…. He knew how to get under my skin” but in a way that made Koehler smile and appreciate Fernandez’s personality.

Koehler, serious about his approach, said maybe Fernandez’s memory will loosen him up a bit.

“We take it a little too seriously,” Koehler said. “Maybe we will be able to sit back and relax on the mound. He played it like a game.”

When Koehler’s wife had labor induced last week, Fernandez told him: “I hope everything goes great.”

That touched Koehler.

"That was the last time we talked," Koehler said. "He was wishing me luck and excited about my daughter being born, not because he had to. He didn't have to come up. There were guys who didn't say a word when I left. He truly cared about it. That was something special."

Koehler noted the emotional rollercoaster of the weekend: “I brought home my second daughter Saturday and then came this news [on Fernandez] on Sunday.”

Despite their different backgrounds, Koehler and Fernandez became friends, with Koehler coming to think of him as a little brother.

"Somehow, we got close," Koehler said. "He would come to me for, even though we had the same amount of service time [in the big leagues], I had more life experience, and we would talk about stuff."

Koehler said Fernandez was “super excited” about Fernandez’s girlfriend being pregnant.

“I think that was the first time in the pregnancy where it felt real to him," Koehler said. "Now he had a face and he had a name and everything. So he would come to me: 'What's it been like with your daughter?'

"I feel terrible that his daughter isn't going to get to meet him at all. I know we've all talked and will try to do our best to make sure she knows who her dad was. We have to make sure his legacy lives on, try to do right by the family any way we can.”

• Koehler said there has been discussion internally among players about setting up a foundation to help Fernandez’s family but players will work on that with “a clear mind” after getting past this week.

“I am pretty sure we are willing to do anything [Marlins management] thinks of,” said third baseman Martin Prado, who was scheduled to speak at Thursday’s funeral. “I’m thinking every player is going to help.”

Here’s an idea: Starting a fund for Fernandez’s unborn child.

According to probaseballreference.com, Fernandez has made $4.4 million in his big league career. He was likely to land a contract of at least $25 million per year, if not higher, in free agency after 2018.

• Marlins players were thoroughly impressed how management, ownership and Don Mattingly dealt with the tragedy’s aftermath.

“The way the front office handled this was pretty awesome,” catcher Jeff Mathis said. “And Don is a guy that cares about each and every one of us.”

• Prado: “I’ve never seen someone with so much joy, his fire, his passion. It’s devastating to know we lost one of the biggest impact guys in the history of the team. To see people cheering for Jose and saying goodbye was memorable.”

As far as moving beyond this tragedy, Prado said: “It’s not a week or two weeks, a year. It will be in our heart for a long time.”

• Because of the way fans reacted this week, Koehler said: “I feel closer to the fans than I ever thought I would.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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