MIAMI (AP) — Jose Fernandez, the charismatic ace for the Miami Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball’s brightest stars, was killed in a boating accident early Sunday. He was 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 accident. The 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 shared their condolences with the Marlins.
“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, surrounded by more than two dozen players wearing Marlins 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.
“When I think about Josie, it’s going to be thinking about a little kid,” Mattingly said. “I see such a little boy in him … the way he played. … Kids play Little League, that’s the joy Jose played with.”
Fernandez was on a vessel that had a “severe impact” with a jetty, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The overturned boat remained in the water for several hours, its engine 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 Sunday. Officials later said they were taken to the medical examiner’s office. Two bodies were found under the vessel and a third was found on the jetty, said Capt. Leonel Reyes of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Marine Services Bureau.
The names of the other two individuals are being 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.”
Veloz said there was no immediate indication that alcohol or drugs were a cause in the crash. He also said none of the three victims wore a life jacket, and that 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.”
Fernandez was a two-time All-Star who went 38-17 in his four seasons with the Marlins, winning the NL’s Rookie of the Year award in 2013. The native of Santa Clara, Cuba became a U.S. citizen last year and was enormously popular in Miami thanks to his backstory, success and exuberant flair.
He tried to defect from Cuba at least three times – landing in jail after one of those unsuccessful tries – before eventually getting to the U.S. and going to high school in Tampa, Florida. The Marlins drafted him in 2011 and Fernandez was in the majors two years later.
Red Sox star David Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel a pregame tribute they scheduled in his honor before his final game in their ballpark Sunday.
“I don’t have the words to describe the pain I feel,” Ortiz said.
The New York Mets, in the thick of a playoff chase, are scheduled to play in Miami on Monday. Fernandez’s debut game in 2013 was against the Mets – and he was scheduled to start against them Monday.
“When the first pitch left his hand, the first thought is, ‘Oh, wow, this is something special,'” said Mets manager Terry Collins, who picked Fernandez for this year’s All-Star Game. “This was not only one of the greatest pitchers in the modern game but one of the finest young men you’d ever meet, who played the game with passion and fun and enjoyed being out there.”
The game Monday will be played as scheduled, the Marlins said.
“Deep in our hearts there is a lot of pain,” third baseman Martin Prado said. “Somehow we’ve got to overcome that.”
Fernandez’s death immediately brought memories of past baseball tragedies, such as the deaths of Thurman Munson and Roberto Clemente – stars who died in plane crashes in the 1970s.
Cleveland teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed in a boating accident in Florida in 1993, and the game also reeled from the sudden deaths of major leaguers Darryl Kile, Lyman Bostock and Cory Lidle in recent years.
Video boards at Marlins Park on Sunday morning showed a large “16” – Fernandez’s uniform number – over his name. The number was also painted on the mound, and flowers rested on the rubber. A few dozen fans milled about in the ballpark plaza, some wearing Fernandez jerseys.
Fernandez posted a photo of his girlfriend sporting a “baby bump” on his Instagram page last week, announcing that the couple was expecting its first child.
“I’m so glad you came into my life,” Fernandez wrote in that post. “I’m ready for where this journey is gonna take us together.”