The mood in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse prior to a 1:10 p.m. PT start is typically subdued. On Sunday, sadness filled the air as news of Jose Fernandez’s death shocked Major League Baseball.
Chris Hatcher and Kiké Hernandez knew Fernandez from their days in the Miami Marlins organization. Although Yasiel Puig did not play with Fernandez, he developed a strong bond with the fellow Cuban native over the past three seasons.
“I’m very sad about what happened. He was a very close friend of mine,” a teary-eyed Puig said through a translator. ”
I was definitely one of the first people to find out, and I couldn’t sleep after that. Thinking just a couple of weeks ago we were having dinner and spending time together in Miami.”
Though they defected from Cuba at different points in their lives — Fernandez a teenager, and Puig already in his 20s — they broke into the Majors during the same season.
“In 2013 when I got called up and we were battling for Rookie of the Year, that struck a friendship,” Puig said. Perhaps playing for a franchise that’s struggled to be relevant, Fernandez largely avoided the same criticism Puig has faced.
“When we were in Miami he constantly gave me advice about how to better myself. This last time we were together he gave me more advice, and now I lost him,” the 25-year-old outfielder said, no longer able to fight back tears.
Puig admired the way Fernandez interacted with his family and teammates, and viewed the electric right-hander in high regard on the field. “I think after Kershaw he was the best pitcher,” he said.
The tragic loss of a friend also evoked fond memories of head-to-head matchups. “I liked to face to him, he was great, we would joke around a lot. Sometimes he would throw balls and I would tell him to throw strikes,” Puig recalled.
“The next time we face Miami and he’s not there, I’m going to miss him.” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts deferred to Puig on starting Sunday’s series finale against the Colorado Rockies.
Puig said he wanted to be in the lineup and dedicated the game to Fernandez.