JUPITER, Fla. — Dee Gordon pulled his left arm out of his hooded sweatshirt here Friday afternoon to show the tattoo he added during the offseason to honor late teammate Jose Fernandez.
It’s an image of Gordon hitting the emotional home run in the first game after Fernandez’s death: Gordon is in the follow-through of his swing, with the pitcher’s No. 16 and initials inked to the side. The first round of work on the tattoo took place right after last season, and the finishing touches were completed a few weeks ago.
In the interim, in late October, the results of a toxicology report on Fernandez were released: At the time the pitcher died in the boating accident that also took the lives of friends Emilio Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero, Fernandez had a blood alcohol content of .147, nearly twice the legal limit, and cocaine and other substances were found in Fernandez’s system.
For Gordon, and for some teammates, the toxicology report doesn’t change how they feel about Fernandez.
“I don’t love him any less,” Gordon said. “I know some people might have felt a different way towards him. I knew the guy as a great person. You don’t know what anybody does when they go home. … All I know is he’s always been great to me, as a teammate and as an opponent. There’s nothing that can ever come out that could make me think differently of him or the way he carried himself or the way he handled his business.”
Marlins president David Samson, who spoke eloquently about Fernandez the morning of his death, feels lasting affection for Fernandez, and anger. Samson recalled seeing the toxicology details for the first time and said he “had an idea of what would be in there, because when you’re on a boat at high speed at 3 in the morning — no matter who’s driving — the assumption is there’s alcohol involved.”
“If you’re referring to the other substances, I was blown away. My first [reaction was]: ‘Is it traces? Is it a lot? Is it true?’ And then I got distracted from myself and said, ‘It doesn’t matter. He’s still never coming back.’ And all of that probably happened in 10 seconds.”
Samson remembered how in spring training, he, Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton spent time at a golf tournament together, having fun. Every year, Samson recalled, he and Fernandez would take their physicals at about the same time because they were both early risers.
“I’m angry with him. And I love him. And it’s OK to be angry with someone you love. I’m angry with him that he’s not here in spring training. I’m sad, I’m angry and I love him.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly was home when the toxicology report emerged, and he was glad he was in a place where he could process the information privately and didn’t have to talk about it publicly.
“I was a little disappointed,” Mattingly said. “It doesn’t change anything about the way I feel about Jose. I know kids do stuff — different stuff. Obviously, a little disappointed with that. I never felt like that was Jose, really.”
“I’ve been around different people [doing] different things, and Jose was the same all the time. I didn’t [see] any change of attitude. …You’re disappointed, but you love him, and you see all the good.”
Stanton said the details in the report “didn’t matter to me. We all have our life choices, and mistakes. … That’s irrelevant. If you know him, it’s not a big deal. It’s an accident, and it happens. In terms of how I feel about him, it doesn’t change a dang thing. Zero.”
Marlins third baseman Martin Prado had heard some of the details about the toxicology from a friend before it became public. “We all make mistakes; nobody’s perfect,” Prado said. “For me, it’s always going to be a good Jose. It doesn’t matter if who says something, or some [information] came out, something didn’t come out.
“Everybody will always remember him as a hard worker and a guy who was always laughing. Every time he was between those [foul] lines, he always gave everything he had. Even if he had a bad day, the next time he dealt. It’s hard to do that in baseball. And he did a lot of amazing stuff for the city, for the Cuban community, for the Latino community.”
Prado continued: “I’m hoping that as time goes by, people forget about that little thing — that little bad thing — and let that legacy flow. Because he was a legacy for the city of Miami. … I have made mistakes in my life, and that kid made mistakes. I don’t see why I don’t forgive; I like to forgive. And I hope people forgive.”
Christian Yelich‘s locker at the Marlins’ facility is right next to the locker that Fernandez used to inhabit, and Yelich motioned toward Fernandez’s old home and talked about the pain of his absence. The details in the toxicology study have had no impact on his feelings, he said.
“It doesn’t make it any less sad, any less tragic,” Yelich said. “It doesn’t make you miss him any more or any less. You know, stuff happens, man. It’s unfortunate that [the report] came out, and hopefully it doesn’t sway people’s opinions about the person he was. He was a great person, a great teammate, a great friend.
“We all still miss him to this day. It’s something that’s been tough. … Everyone makes mistakes. … It was tragic that all three lives were lost. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing the other two guys. I had just known Jose for six, seven years. It’s tough, and it’s something we all have to get through together as a group.”
Gordon ventured into the weight room here Thursday and couldn’t help but think about Fernandez, who would taunt Gordon good-naturedly about his strength. In past years, Gordon would lift weights while the pitcher pedaled an exercise bicycle nearby, teasing the spindly Gordon that he would never get strong enough to hit home runs. “I’m going to hit a home run when it counts,” Gordon retorted.
On Sept. 26, Gordon hit a home run with his first swing on the day after Fernandez’s death, and wept as he circled the bases. On Friday, he spoke in a low tone about his deceased friend. “He made a mistake and it cost him his life,” Gordon said. “That should be more than enough; he’s not here anymore.
The other day, Gordon recalled, someone told him that Fernandez would want the Marlins to move on without him. “That’s a lie,” Gordon said. “Because he would be like, ‘Dude, wait on me. Y’all leavin’ me. I’m supposed to be here.’ He wouldn’t want us to keep going without him, because that’s not the guy he was. He wanted to be part of something special. He wanted to be part of this locker room.”