Rockies recall Fernandez's smile, joy for game

Rockies recall Fernandez's smile, joy for game

LOS ANGELES -- Carlos Gonzalez's glowing smile was mostly absent on Sunday morning. It only showed when he remembered the beam of the late Jose Fernandez, the Marlins' 24-year-old star pitcher who was tragically killed in a boating accident.

Gonzalez's favorite smile from Fernandez came, fittingly, at a time when most people would've thought he had no reason to smile.

"It was 2014, that was before Opening Day, so you get there one day before and I saw him," Gonzalez said. "I saw him and he was telling me he was going to strike me out three times on Opening Day, so I said, 'OK, let's go to battle.'"

Gonzalez hit hard line drives his first two at-bats -- one for a single, the other caught by Adeiny Hechavarria.

"My third at-bat, I hit a homer to dead-center," Gonzalez said. "I kind of stared at it, stayed at the plate.

"Jose was smiling the whole time, staring at me as I was running the bases. That's who he was. He had fun doing it. At the same time he wanted to dominate you and be the best -- and give you that crazy smile back."

Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Fernandez was "arguably one of the top three pitchers in the National League," but more than that he was such an original that he didn't change pitching as much as showed that a pitcher can be different.

Starters as a group are grumps, bless their hearts. On their day, most of them barely speak, they are left to stew in anger over slights, real and imagine. Talk to them, the culture says, and you risk blowing four or five days of preparation. On the field, a hitter can dig his spikes too hard or celebrate too mightily or look at them wrong and risk being drilled with a pitch. But Fernandez celebrated his successes and even enjoyed someone giving him a taste of his own exuberance.

"The guys who have it good are the guys who can have fun, who can be in the moment and enjoy those times -- it's just enjoying life," Rockies rookie pitcher Jon Gray said. "From what I can tell, he was one of the best at it."

Marlins on Fernandez's passing

"My first impression was this rookie is way too comfortable," Weiss said. "The first time he pitched against us, it kind of caught you off guard because he was so animated. For a rookie, with the unwritten baseball rules, that's unacceptable. But it didn't take long before I realized this guy just had a tremendous joy playing the game. I was all in shortly after that first time I saw him pitch.

"I actually had a conversation with him, and told him how much I enjoyed watching him pitch, how refreshing it was to see that joy on the field. He was very respectful. That's what struck me. He called me Mr. Weiss."

On Sunday, Rockies reliever Chad Qualls, a teammate when Fernandez won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2013, said part of his duty as a veteran was to make sure he did things the right way. Qualls, who struggled with his emotions the first time he tried to speak but did an interview later, said Fernandez understood big league ways and by midseason "gave me a big hug" -- but never lost himself.

"He doesn't go above or beyond, and he really enjoys the passion of baseball, loves to compete," Qualls said. "He would smile, show his teeth whenever he could and he was even graceful in defeat, which wasn't very often."

CarGo remembers Fernandez

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado woke Sunday morning to "a hundred texts from our family in Miami." Arenado's grandfather and father escaped Cuba in the early 1960s.

"It hits home with my family, being from Cuba and the things he had to go through to get here, and what his family has had to go through to get here, too," Arenado said. "He had to do a lot of things to get them over here. To see that happen is just so sad and terrible. My family is hurting for him because they know the Cuban community. He meant a lot to them. He brought out the Cuban side of the game. It hurts."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.