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MIAMI (AP) — Jose Fernandez, the ace right-hander for the Miami Marlins who escaped Cuba to become one of baseball’s brightest stars, was killed in a boating accident early Sunday morning. Fernandez was 24.
He and two other people died when their 32-foot vessel slammed into a jetty off Miami Beach, authorities said.
“Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. “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.”
Reaction quickly poured in from around the game. 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,” MLB 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 has been 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 said on Twitter early Sunday.
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.
Fernandez was on a 32-foot vessel that had a “severe impact” with a jetty, said FWC’s Lorenzo Veloz. The overturned boat remained in the water for several hours Sunday morning, its engine partially submerged as its nose pointed skyward, as debris from the crash was scattered over some of the large jagged rocks.
The destroyed boat was eventually towed away.
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,” said Veloz, the FWC spokesman. “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’s.
“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.”
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.
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.
In New York, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he checked on infielder Donovan Solano and special assistant to the GM Joe Espada — both former members of the Marlins organization.
“They say they’re OK but you know they’re not,” Girardi said. “I didn’t know Jose and my heart is heavy. I can’t imagine what they feel.”
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 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.”
Collins said Monday’s game at Marlins Park will be difficult emotionally.
“But we’ll get through it, because we have to,” he said. “Everybody that’s ever played the game knows it has to go on.”
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.
“Steve Olin was a teammate of mine when the boating accident in spring training took place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “The emotions range from shock, disbelief to thinking about their families and the adjustments they’re going to have to go through. And the pain and sorrow that they go through.”
The Miami Dolphins said they would have a moment of silence before their game in nearby Miami Gardens on Sunday afternoon to remember Fernandez.
“I’m still in shock,” former Marlins player Gaby Sanchez said on Twitter. “The world has lost a remarkable person. You will be missed and my heart goes out to the Fernandez family.”
Video boards at Marlins Park on Sunday morning showed a large “16” — Fernandez’s jersey number — over his name. A few fans milled about, even though the game was canceled.
Fernandez posted a photo of his girlfriend sporting a “baby bump” on his Instagram page last week, announcing that the couple was expecting their 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.”
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