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September 25, 2016

Phillies react to the tragic death of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK – Odubel Herrera was the only Phillies player at the All-Star Game two months ago in San Diego, and like any first-time All-Star, he was both honored to be in a room with the very best in the game while also excited for the experience, too.

His parents may have been the only people more amped up.

On the day before the game, during an afternoon when every player sits at a table inside a hotel ballroom for media access for close to an hour, Herrera’s parents tried to grab a photo with every All-Star at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

Including one with Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.

“I think (my dad) was a fan of him,” Herrera said Sunday inside a somber clubhouse at Citi Field, where many players arrived to hear the news of Fernandez’s tragic death in a boating accident. “My dad loves baseball, he’s always watching baseball. He liked how he pitched.”

Herrera, a native of Venezuela, and Fernandez, who risked his life (and saved his mother) while defecting from Cuba, were not best friends or the kind of guys who hung out outside the ballpark. But both shared similar personalities.

Just as everyone in baseball has always been drawn to Fernandez’s infectious exuberance, everyone in the Phillies clubhouse has gravitated to Herrera since his arrival winters ago. Herrera last spoke to Fernandez a week ago, when the Marlins were about to board their bus following a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park.

“I like talking to him because he was a humble guy,” Herrera said. “He liked helping people out. It’s nice when you encounter people like that. … I like the way he pitched a lot, and I also liked the way he handled himself in the dugout. He was always encouraging people up, you know, cheering people up, encouraging others.”

The news of Fernandez’s death played throughout the morning on the only TV in the visiting clubhouse with the volume turned up. More than a dozen players watched the live press conference from Miami.

While sitting in the same room Fernandez and the Marlins have occupied throughout the season, the Phillies mostly watched the news in silence.

“I found out when I walked into the clubhouse,” Herrera said. “It shocked me.”

Herrera was proud to admit he shares the same enthusiasm Fernandez brought to the field, always showing “energy and passion,” always smiling. When asked about the impact Fernandez made and what people can learn from his legacy, Herrera said it was just that: an unflappable positive personality that matched his undeniable pitching talent.

“It’s really good to remember that you have to play the game with joy, with happiness, and to take every moment out of it,” Herrera said.

The Marlins-Braves game in Miami was canceled on Sunday. At Citi Field, there was a moment of silence for Fernandez prior to the national anthem.

Here is some reaction from around the baseball community on Twitter this morning:

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21