Mets fondly recall Fernandez's 'love for the game'

Mets fondly recall Fernandez's 'love for the game'

NEW YORK -- It was a makeshift memorial, constructed with strips of white tape and posted in anguish. Shortly before the Mets took the field Sunday for their final home game of the 2016 season, Yoenis Cespedes taped a No. 16 Jose Fernandez jersey on their dugout wall. He and others stopped before it to remember, to think, to grieve, to pray.

In the hours following Fernandez's death in a boating accident early Sunday morning, the Mets focused their energies not on remembering the pitcher they battled and respected so many times over the past four seasons. They instead recalled the young man who treated their clubhouse staff so sweetly during the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. They thought of the man who would walk over to their side of the field during pregame warmups, saying hello to everyone whether he knew them or not. They thought of the man who walked into Terry Collins' office at this year's All-Star Game just to thank him for the opportunity to pitch.

"This is one that hits you in the stomach," Collins said. "This kid's 24 years old. He's got a huge future ahead of him. His past is a story itself -- how he got here, how he became successful, his love for the game, his love for Miami and the community, what he did down there for kids. You can't ever watch a Marlins game where you're not looking over on the bench watching this guy have fun, even though he's not playing that night. He stays on the bench. He's cheering. He's on the top step. His love for the game and what he meant to Miami, it's got to be a hard day for them.

"I wish more guys were like that. I wish more guys really had fun, like he did, playing the game. The pressures didn't get to him. He enjoyed everything the game meant. He's going to be missed. He's one of the people that bring people into the ballpark, because they loved to see him play and they love to see him perform."

As they arrived at Citi Field early Sunday and heard the news, many of them for the first time, Mets players grieved in different ways. Some sat in the clubhouse, watching television broadcasters remember Fernandez. Others retreated to a back room, preferring the company of silence. The two Mets who knew Fernandez best -- Jose Reyes, who knew him from his days as a Marlin, and Cespedes, a member of the tightknit Cuban baseball community -- asked not to comment out of grief.

Plenty of others did share their remembrances. Seemingly everybody had a story.

"I don't think anybody really brought more energy out there to the field," pitcher Jacob deGrom said. "Even when he was in the dugout, you'd look over there and he'd been rooting on his team, probably more than anyone you've ever seen."

Fernandez well liked around MLB

"It's just devastating," said infielder Wilmer Flores, who joined his teammates along the first-base line Sunday for a moment of silence in Fernandez's memory. "There are no words to say what you feel."

"He's not only a great player, he was a great person, a great human being," Mets catcher Rene Rivera said. "It's sad to hear the news. We're going to miss him, a great baseball player who enjoyed the game so much. It's a big loss in the Latin community in baseball."

Collins recalled his team facing Fernandez for his MLB debut in 2013, after hearing stories about him during Spring Training. How electric Fernandez looked that day. How bright his future appeared. How much of a first impression he made, then continued to make throughout his career.

Though Cespedes did not know Fernandez well, he said he felt a kinship as Cubans who defected to the United States. That's why when Mets COO Jeff Wilpon asked the Mets' clubhouse staff to create a Fernandez Mets jersey early Sunday morning, Cespedes decided he should be the one to hang it in the dugout. As players filtered out to the field, where they held a moment of silence in honor of Fernandez, many of them tapped the memorial with their hands.

"Even if everyone here wasn't necessarily very good or close friends with him, we all knew how charismatic he was and how much the game meant to him," Cespedes said through an interpreter. "I didn't know him very well personally -- just really my time spent with him on the field. But he was a very charismatic person, and I think we can all agree that he had so much fun out there on the mound. That's probably my best memory of him."

Cespedes on loss of Fernandez

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.