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Marlins ace Jose Fernandez killed in boating accident; death stuns a team and a sport

Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde talks of Jose Fernandez’s devastating death in a boating accident.

Jose Fernandez, the pitching ace who as a teenager 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 boat crash on the jetty rocks off Miami Beach. He was 24.

Fernandez, a two-time All-Star and the 2013 National League rookie of the year, was the ebullient face of the Miami Marlins franchise and his passing was acknowledged around Major League Baseball. 

Some players penned remembrances on their caps or cleats while others turned to social media to express their emotions. In Tampa, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz asked the Rays to cancel a pregame ceremony in his honor to instead offer a moment of silence for Fernandez.

“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 Miami player and coach, plus other team personnel.

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“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. You realize how precious life is, how taking things for granted is a foolish man’s game.”

The Marlins and Atlanta Braves canceled their Sunday afternoon game at Marlins Park, but scores of fans — many of them tearful — showed up to pay tribute to Fernandez. They formed a makeshift shrine of flowers and handwritten notes outside one of the stadium’s entrances.

“Jose was the leader of this team, and we should also remember the risks he took to pursue the American dream,” said Brett McMurrain, a manager for a food distributor, 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.”

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Inside the ballpark, first-year Marlins Manager Don Mattingly broke down several times during a news conference.

“When I think about Jose it’s going to be thinking of that little kid,” he said, pausing as he wiped away tears. “I see such a little boy in him when . . . the way he played . . . just joy with him when he played . . . and when he pitched.”

Fernandez was one of three men killed in the accident. The other two had not been publicly identified as of Sunday night, but one was the son of a Miami-Dade Police detective, the department said.

A routine Coast Guard patrol spotted the wreckage about 3:15 a.m., U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Megan Dean said. There was no indication of alcohol or illegal drugs, said officer Lorenzo Veloz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“It does appear that speed was involved due to the impact and severity of it,” said Veloz, speaking at a news briefing at the U.S. Coast Guard station on Miami Beach. None of the victims was wearing a life jacket.

The boat is owned by one of the other two men who died, and the owner often took Marlins players out on the boat, Veloz said.

“Unfortunately, sometimes at night you deviate, because there are no lights out there and you can’t see anything, so we’re going to look into that and find out more,” Veloz said.

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Among those who watched solemnly as the wrecked vessel was towed away were several fans wearing orange No. 16 Fernandez jerseys.

At Marlins Park, the video board in center field, 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. The team store was open, and many fans snapped up Fernandez T-shirts and jerseys.

Fernandez was the Marlins’ first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2011 amateur draft. Through his four-year career he posted a 38-17 record and 2.58 earned-run average. This season, Fernandez struck out 12.49 batters per nine innings, the fifth-best average in the last 100 years.

“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.”

In Los Angeles, Dodgers outfielder Enrique Hernandez recalled his former Marlins teammate’s “unique passion for the game” and spoke of what a hero the young pitcher was in Cuba.

Hernandez said his grandfather recalled that every time Fernandez pitched “the entire country stopped and watched or listened on the radio.”

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In a radio-television simulcast, Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully quoted a tweet Fernandez wrote last year:

“If you were given a book with the story of your life, would you read the end?”

Healey and Clary are staff writers with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, as is Linda Trischitta, who contributed to this report. Times staff writers Dylan Hernandez and Mike Hiserman contributed from Los Angeles.

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UPDATES:

9:08 a.m.: This post was updated with reporting from the Sun Sentinel.

6:56 a.m.: This post has been updated with details throughout.

An Associated Press report was originally published at 6:25 a.m.


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