Beloved star Fernandez dies in tragic accident

Beloved star Fernandez dies in tragic accident

MIAMI -- Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, a beloved young superstar in Major League Baseball, died early Sunday in a boating accident in Miami Beach.

The tragedy rocked the organization, the South Florida community and the baseball world. With his passion for playing, emotion and energy, Fernandez became a figure who transcended sports in his four-year big league career.

"There's no words to describe how this organization feels," Marlins president David Samson said. "Jose was someone who we've known since he was a drafted young man, and I think when you talk about a tragedy like this, there are no words that come to mind. There's no playbook, there's no words of consolation.

"There's prayer and there's thought toward his family, toward his soon-to-be-born daughter, and you recognize how precious life is and how taking things for granted is a fool's game."

 

At a tearful news conference, every Miami player and coach stood in their black jerseys behind Samson, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, manager Don Mattingly and third baseman Martin Prado, who represented the players. Reliever Mike Dunn held Fernandez's No. 16 jersey.

"All of Baseball is shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernández," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "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. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the Miami Marlins organization and all of the people he touched in his life."

The passing of the 24-year-old right-hander prompted the cancellation of Miami's series finale on Sunday with the Braves at Marlins Park, which was scheduled for 1:10 p.m. ET.

"There was just joy with him when he played," Mattingly said. "When he pitched, I think that's what the guys would say, too, as mad as he would make you with some of the stuff he'd do, you'd see that little kid you see when you watch kids play Little League or something like that. That's the joy that Jose played with and the passion he felt about playing."

At Marlins Park, a number of fans left flowers and pictures of Fernandez. The grounds crew inscribed No. 16 on the back of the mound and placed a cap above it, and the center-field scoreboard simply read: "16 Jose Fernandez."

"This is difficult for me and for everybody," Prado said. "When I came to the Marlins last year, I knew ... one of the main things about the Marlins was Jose. And just to see him go out there every time he went out there, it was his day. He didn't care who he faced, he didn't care who we were playing. One of the guys told a story today that he told one of his teammates that the last game he pitched against the Nationals was the best game he ever pitched, and now he's gone. It's hard. It is hard.

"We're not robots. We're humans, and we feel. He made an impact on every single person on this team in different ways. I understand the fact that we've got to play games and be professionals, but there's a lot of pain. In some way we've got to overcome that, but right now it's hard."

Fernandez initially was scheduled to start on Sunday, but on Saturday, it was announced he would pitch the series opener with the Mets on Monday in Miami.

"There will be a game [Monday]," Samson said. "When the team got together, one of the first things talked about was the way Jose played and the way he was on the field. That is how these guys can honor Jose and all of us can.

"I think somebody said if Jose were here, he'd say we're going to get out there tomorrow and play and honor the game and honor the people who wish they could play the game but can't and honor the oppressed people in Cuba who can't play this game but want to. And that is what we will do. We will play tomorrow. We made the Braves aware. We were in touch with the Commissioner and the Braves, and obviously the Braves and the Commissioner sent their well wishes and anything they could do to us."

Miami officials on Fernandez

Fernandez was an avid fisherman, who spent time on his boat. According to the Coast Guard, the boat that crashed and flipped over early Sunday morning was owned by a friend. Fernandez and two other males were killed in the accident.

Samson said he received a call from Hill about 6:58 a.m. ET. Samson and Hill immediately reached team owner Jeffrey Loria, and around 7:45 a.m., Mattingly was informed.

"It is with the deepest sorrow that I, together with my family and the entire Marlins organization, mourn the tragic loss of Jose," Loria said in a statement. "Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest. 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, already a two-time All-Star, was winding down his best big league season, posting a 16-8 record with a 2.86 ERA. The hard-throwing righty had already compiled a franchise record for strikeouts with 253, and his 12.49 strikeouts per nine innings paces the Majors.

"He had a personality that was very rare in sports," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Getting to see it over the years, it was a personality you got drawn to. He was always smiling and always having fun. He loved playing the game of baseball. Every time he got on that mound, he brought the best out of you. It's not only a loss for baseball, but this whole country really, Cuba and everything. It's a very sad day."

Mike Hill reflects on Fernandez

Regarded as one of the best pitchers in the game, Fernandez sported a 38-17 record with a 2.58 ERA in 76 career starts. But it was at Marlins Park where he was most dominant, posting a 29-2 record with a 1.49 ERA in 42 starts.

Fernandez's path to the big leagues is inspirational.

Three times he tried unsuccessfully to defect from his native Cuba with his family, with each failed trip resulting in a prison trip. Fernandez even said he was "treated like an animal" when he was behind bars. Finally, in 2008, he and his family made it to the United States, but it was a daunting journey, and at one point he needed to rescue his mother, Maritza, who had fallen overboard. His family eventually settled in Tampa, Fla., and a few years late he would become a pitching sensation.

Fernandez was Miami's first-round pick in 2011, and at age 20, he broke into the Majors, becoming an All-Star and the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013.

In May 2014, Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery, and he returned to the mound on July 2, 2015. That same year, he became a U.S. citizen.

"This is one of my important accomplishments," Fernandez said after he gained citizenship in April 2015. "I'm an American citizen now -- I'm one of them. I consider myself now to be free."

Fernandez's last start was perhaps the best of his career. He tossed a season-high eight innings and struck out 12 in Tuesday's 1-0 shutout win over the Nationals.

Fernandez strikes out 12

For all of his successes, Fernandez repeatedly said after each start that he was truly "blessed."

"The entire team stayed, and we just want to say to his family, if they're listening, this is not about today or tomorrow. Jose's a member of this family for all time and a member of the city of Miami, and all of South Florida, all of Cuban-Americans," Samson said. "His story is representative of a story of hope and love and faith, and no one will ever let that story die."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.