Marlins ace dies in boating accident
2 others killed in Fla.; pitcher was his team’s biggest attraction
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.”