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Fernandez soaks up All-Star experience and takes home autographs

NEW YORK -- Jose Fernandez reached into his locker Tuesday afternoon at Citi Field and pulled out a white Marlins jersey to show a friend.

Jose FernandezThis wasn't any ordinary jersey, though. It had the autographs of every All-Star in the National League clubhouse on the back, a special keepsake the 20-year old rookie said he plans on putting in a frame and on a wall up in his house.

"I got a bat autographed, too," Fernandez said with a smile on his face. "It's been amazing just to be here talking to all these guys."

The second-youngest player and the only rookie at this year's All-Star Game, Fernandez spent his first 48 hours in New York busy conducting interviews in both English and Spanish, and signing tons and tons of autographs himself.

"It's been crazy -- nothing but signing and talking, signing and talking -- a lot of stuff to sign," Fernandez said. "But I'm not complaining. I'm thrilled to be here."

Fernandez, the youngest Cuban-born player in baseball history to earn an All-Star nod, said he had a great time Monday catching up with fellow Cuban defectors Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes. They stayed on the field talking even after the National League had already completed its work.

Fernandez said he didn't know either until this trip to New York, but heard about their big-time talent while he was growing up in Cuba.

Their stories of defection, though, weren't nearly as harrowing as his own.

Chapman, 25 and now a two-time All-Star for the Reds, walked out on the Cuban National Team during a tournament in the Netherlands in 2009. Cespedes, who received a special invite to the All-Star Game for the Home Run Derby and edged out Bryce Harper to win it Monday night, fled Cuba with his family for the Dominican Republic in 2011. He's now 27.

Fernandez was 15 when he jumped into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to save his mother during his fourth and final attempt to reach the United States. Before that, he spent months in prison next to murderers, locked up because he sought a better life and tried to leave a communist country.

"We talked like we've known each other for 10 years," said Fernandez, who cheered on Cespedes during the derby.

"A lot of guys were impressed by the way Cespedes hit the ball last night. He was hitting them like nothing, like he was in a Little League park. I really enjoyed it. [Cubans] just love the game, respect it and play hard."

Fernandez, who brought his mother with him on his All-Star trip, said the first thing he plans to do when he gets back to Miami is call his grandmother in Cuba to share his experience. She was listening to the game on radio on the roof of her home.

After tonight, though, the focus will return to the Marlins. Just the third Marlins rookie to make the N.L. All-Star team (joining Dontrelle Willis and second baseman Dan Uggla), Fernandez said he expects big things from his team in the second half of the season. Since Logan Morrison's return on June 9th, the Marlins have gone 18-14.

Three-time All-Star and ESPN commentator Rick Sutcliffe told Fernandez before Tuesday's game he was a big fan of his, but was disappointed he probably wouldn't get to broadcast one of his games since the Marlins are a last-place team. Fernandez politely shook his head and smiled.

"People can think what they want, but I think we're going to play even better in the second half," Fernandez said. "It's a different energy. We're hitting the ball well. There isn't a game we play now where we don't think we can win."