Mar­lins ace dies in boat­ing ac­ci­dent

2 oth­ers killed in Fla.; pitcher was his team’s big­gest at­trac­tion

Baltimore Sun - - BASEBALL - By Tim Healey and Mike Clary Bal­ti­more Sun reporter Ed­uardo A. Encina con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

MI­AMI — As Mi­ami Mar­lins play­ers cloaked in black jer­seys cir­cled around their lead­ers in a show of unity in­side Mar­lins Park on Sun­day af­ter­noon, their fans gath­ered out­side with flow­ers and photos and ques­tions. The most vis­i­ble sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the groups: tears.

Jose Fer­nan­dez, the Mar­lins’ ace pitcher who sur­vived a har­row­ing es­cape from his na­tive Cuba to be­come one of the bright­est young stars in base­ball, was found dead early Sun­day morn­ing af­ter a boat­ing ac­ci­dent, the team and U.S. Coast Guard of­fi­cials con­firmed. He was 24.

The Mar­lins’ home game Sun­day against the At­lanta Braves was can­celed.

“As you see around you, there are no words to de­scribe how this or­ga­ni­za­tion feels,” Mar­lins pres­i­dent David Sam­son said at a news con­fer­ence at­tended by ev­ery player and coach on the team, plus other team per­son­nel. “There’s no play­book. There’s no words of con­so­la­tion. You re­al­ize how pre­cious life is, how tak­ing things for granted is a fool­ish man’s game.”

The Coast Guard said in a news re­lease that three peo­ple, in­clud­ing Fer­nan­dez, were killed in the crash into a jetty off Mi­ami Beach. A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion said the im­pact sug­gested speed was a fac­tor. None of the vic­tims was wear­ing a life jacket, the spokesman said.

The names of the other two peo­ple who died were be­ing with­held un­til next of kin were no­ti­fied, the Coast Guard said.

Ori­oles re­liever My­chal Givens played against Fer­nan­dez in high school. Givens was two years ahead of Fer­nan­dez but saw that In­ves­ti­ga­tors ap­pear Sun­day at the scene of the boat­ing ac­ci­dent that killed Jose Fer­nan­dez and two oth­ers. Pitcher Jose Fer­nan­dez tried three times to es­cape from Cuba to the United States by sea be­fore suc­ceed­ing in 2008. he was an im­mense tal­ent, even as a fresh­man.

“The fact that he had to go through all the stuff he had to go through to get to Amer­ica, that’s the big­gest hard part,” Givens said be­fore the club’s game Sun­day against the Ari­zona Diamondbacks at Cam­den Yards. “To get his fam­ily here, and at the same time be fo­cused to [fol­low through] with his ca­reer and go to school and be a great base­ball player. To see him grow up from a fresh­man all the way to now, when he was a big lea­guer, was just re­ally im­pres­sive.”

Ori­oles man­ager Buck Showal­ter said he planned to reach out to Mar­lins man­ager Don Mat­tingly, a good friend whom Showal­ter played with in the mi­nors and man­aged on the New York Yan­kees.

“It’s a re­al­ity check, huh?” Showal­ter said of Fer­nan­dez’s death.

Out­side Mar­lins Park, a shrine built of flow­ers and pic­tures of Fer­nan­dez quickly grew. Many who left tributes wore Fer­nan­dez jer­seys.

“To­day’s game has been can­celled,” read the mes­sage on the elec­tronic signs.

The team store was open, and many fans snapped up Fer­nan­dez T-shirts and jer­seys.

Brett McMur­rain and his son Noah, 15, are Mar­lins sea­son-ticket hold­ers, and al­though they knew the game had been called off be­fore they left their Boyn­ton Beach home, they came down any­way. Each left a bou­quet of flow­ers.

“I was shocked when I found out,” said Noah McMur­rain, who plays for the Span­ish River High base­ball team. “I am still not con­vinced in my mind that this re­ally hap­pened.”

Brett McMur­rain, a man­ager for a food dis­trib­u­tor, ap­plauded the Mar­lins for can­cel­ing the game. “Very ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said.

“Jose was the leader of this team, and we should also remember the risks he took to pur­sue the Amer­i­can dream,” said McMur­rain, re­fer­ring to Fer­nan­dez’s three failed at­tempts to reach the United States by sea be­fore suc­ceed­ing in 2008.

“He is an ex­am­ple for us in this coun­try to be in­clu­sive. That is re­ally im­por­tant.”

In­side Mar­lins Park, the team gath­ered.

“And a lot of words were said, mean­ing­ful words and emo­tion and prayer, led by both play­ers and staff,” Sam­son said. “When some­thing like this hap­pens, you take a look at your­self, you take a look at the peo­ple around you and you re­al­ize that above all — above all — there’s just love. And a lot of love.”

The video board in cen­ter field, Mar­lins man­ager Don Mat­tingly strug­gles with his emo­tions dur­ing the team’s news con­fer­ence about Fer­nan­dez’s death Sun­day. as well as elec­tronic sig­nage out­side the sta­dium, went all black with or­ange let­ter­ing of Fer­nan­dez’s name and num­ber. On the mound, the grounds crew sten­ciled in a white “16.” Some­one added a Mar­lins hat and flow­ers.

Fer­nan­dez was the Mar­lins’ first-round pick (14th over­all) in 2011. He be­came a two-time Al­lS­tar and the 2013 Na­tional League Rookie of the Year. In his ca­reer, he had a 38-17 record and 2.58 ERA.

He was also the Mar­lins’ big­gest draw, with at­ten­dance and tele­vi­sion rat­ings con­sis­tently spik­ing on the days he pitched — “Jose Days,” as they were com­monly known.

The Mi­ami Dol­phins held a mo­ment of si­lence to honor Fer­nan­dez at their home opener Sun­day af­ter­noon, as did teams across Ma­jor League Base­ball, in­clud­ing the Ori­oles. Many peo­ple from across the sports world of­fered con­do­lences on so­cial me­dia.

“Sadly, the bright­est lights are of­ten the ones that ex­tin­guish the fastest,” Mar­lins owner Jef­frey Lo­ria said in a state­ment. “Jose left us far too soon, but his mem­ory will en­dure in all of us. At this dif­fi­cult time, our prayers are with his mother, grand­mother, fam­ily and friends.”

GASTON DE CARDENAS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

WILFREDO LEE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

CARL JUSTE/MI­AMI HER­ALD

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