Shock, grief over Fer­nan­dez’s death

Fa­tal boat crash cuts short re­mark­able life, promis­ing ca­reer of Mar­lins pitcher

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Tim Reynolds and Steven Wine AP Sports Writ­ers

Jose Fer­nan­dez es­caped from Cuba by boat on his fourth try as a teenager, and when his mother fell into the Yu­catan Chan­nel dur­ing the jour­ney, he jumped in and pulled her out.

Fer­nan­dez’s heroic back­story made his death early Sun­day that much more heart-wrench­ing. The charis­matic Mi­ami Mar­lins ace was killed in a boat­ing ac­ci­dent at age 24.

Fer­nan­dez and two other peo­ple died when their 32-foot ves­sel slammed into a jetty off Mi­ami Beach, authorities said.

Authorities didn’t know the time of the crash. The cap­sized boat was found shortly af­ter 3 a.m.

“All I can do is scream in dis­be­lief,” said Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a Mar­lins ex­ec­u­tive and na­tive of Cuba. “Jose won the love of all. I feel as if I had lost a son.”

Ma­jor League Base­ball re­leased a state­ment say­ing it was “stunned and dev­as­tated.”

“He was one of our game’s great young stars who made a dra­matic im­pact on and off the field since his de­but in 2013,” Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his fam­ily, the Mi­ami Mar­lins or­ga­ni­za­tion and all of the peo­ple he touched in his life.”

The Mar­lins’ game Sun­day at home against the At­lanta Braves was can­celed. The Braves, along with sev­eral other teams, quickly of­fered con­do­lences.

“Hands down one of my fa­vorite guys to watch pitch! He brought noth­ing but in­ten­sity and pas­sion,” Bos­ton Red Sox pitcher David Price tweeted.

Within hours af­ter the news broke, Mar­lins play­ers gath­ered at the ball­park to grieve to­gether.

“A lot of words were said — mean­ing­ful words and emo­tion

and prayer,” team pres­i­dent David Sam­son said. “Jose is a mem­ber of this fam­ily for all time.”

Sam­son spoke at a news con­fer­ence while sur­rounded by ev­ery player on the Mar­lins, ex­cept their ace. The play­ers wore team jer­seys — black ones. Pitcher David Phelps stared at the floor and shook his head, while out­fielder Chris­tian Yelich took a deep breath and ex­haled slowly. Their eyes were red.

Man­ager Don Mat­tingly and pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Michael Hill flanked Sam­son and un­suc­cess­fully fought back tears. Slug­ger Gian­carlo Stan­ton didn’t speak but later posted a trib­ute on In­sta­gram.

“I’m still wait­ing to wake up from this night­mare,” Stan­ton said. “I lost my brother to­day and can’t quite com­pre­hend it. The shock is over­whelm­ing. What he meant to me,

our team, the city of Mi­ami, Cuba & ev­ery­one else in the world that his en­thu­si­asm/ heart has touched can never be re­placed. I can’t fathom what his fam­ily is go­ing through be­cause We, as his ex­tended Fam­ily are a wreck.”

Fer­nan­dez was on a ves­sel that hit a jetty near a har­bor en­trance, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion. The over­turned boat re­mained in the wa­ter for sev­eral hours, its en­gines par­tially sub­merged as its nose pointed sky­ward, as de­bris from the crash was scat­tered over some of the large jagged rocks.

Veloz de­scribed the con­di­tion of the boat as “hor­ri­ble.”

City of Mi­ami Fire-Res­cue work­ers were seen car­ry­ing bod­ies, draped and on stretch­ers, at the Coast Guard sta­tion af­ter sun­rise. They were taken to the med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice. Two bod­ies were found un­der the ves­sel and a third was found on the jetty.

The names of the other

two in­di­vid­u­als were with­held pend­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion of rel­a­tives, the Coast Guard said.

“It does ap­pear that speed was in­volved due to the im­pact and the sever­ity of it,” Veloz said. “It does ap­pear to be that they were com­ing at full speed when they en­coun­tered the jetty, and the ac­ci­dent hap­pened.”

Fer­nan­dez died from trauma and not drown­ing, Veloz said, who added there was no im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion that al­co­hol or drugs were a cause in the crash. He said none of the three vic­tims wore a life jacket.

The boat was owned by a friend of Fer­nan­dez.

“It does per­tain to a friend of Jose who is very well con­nected with sev­eral Mar­lins play­ers, and I have stopped that boat be­fore for safety in­spec­tions with other Mar­lins play­ers on board,” Veloz said. “We know that this boat knows the area. We just can’t an­swer why this hap­pened.”

Mar­lins owner Jef­frey Lo­ria was out of town but planned to fly to Mi­ami.

“Sadly, the bright­est lights are of­ten the ones that ex­tin­guish the fastest,” 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.”

A na­tive of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fer­nan­dez was un­suc­cess­ful in his first three at­tempts to de­fect, and spent sev­eral months in prison. At 15, he and his mother fi­nally made it to Mex­ico, and were re­united in Tampa, Florida, with his fa­ther, who had es­caped from Cuba two years ear­lier.

The Mar­lins drafted him in 2011 and Fer­nan­dez was in the ma­jors two years later at 20. He went 38-17 in his four sea­sons with Mi­ami, win­ning the NL’s Rookie of the Year award in 2013, and was twice an All-Star.

Last week Fer­nan­dez posted a photo of his girl­friend sport­ing a “baby bump” on his In­sta­gram page, an­nounc­ing that the cou­ple was ex­pect­ing its first child.

ALAN DIAZ — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mi­ami Mar­lins pitcher Jose Fer­nan­dez pitches against the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als in Mi­ami on Tues­day. He was the win­ning pitcher in a 1-0 vic­tory that would be his fi­nal game.

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