MIAMI (AP) — Jose Fernandez made his major league debut against the New York Mets in 2013 and was scheduled to face them again Monday night.
Instead, Miami mourns and the Marlins must push on without their 24-year-old ace, who was killed in a boating accident early Sunday.
“Deep in our hearts there is a lot of pain,” third baseman Martin Prado said. “Somehow we’ve got to overcome that.”
News of his death sent shock waves throughout Major League Baseball. He and two other men died when their 32-foot SeaVee slammed into a jetty that extends off the southern tip of South Beach at 3:15 a.m. Sunday, authorities said.
The boat landed upside-down, with its engines partially submerged and its bow pointed skyward and debris scattered over the large jagged rocks. Also killed were Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, according to Darren Caprara, operations director of the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office.
Fernandez won the NL Rookie of the Year award and became a two-time All Star; he also was expecting his first child, with his girlfriend. But his backstory made his death even more heart-wrenching: He 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.
The Marlins canceled their Sunday afternoon game against Atlanta, but there were pregame tributes and moments of silence for him throughout both leagues. Many teams hung jerseys with his name and number.
“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,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Marlins players and team officials gathered at the ballpark to grieve together. Some of the men tried and failed to hold back their tears.
“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.”
Lorenzo Veloz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said there was no immediate indication that alcohol or drugs were a cause. Details about the boat and who was at the wheel have not been released by the wildlife commission.
Nighttime speed limits have been established in the waters off Miami for holidays but officials have resisted requiring licenses and safety training for adult boaters, said Terry Claus, a fishing charter captain who advocated for tougher safety regulations after a July 4, 2014, crash in Biscayne Bay killed four people.
News photos of the boat involved in Fernandez’s death appear to show that it had blue interior lights, a decorative feature that — if they were on — could have impaired the driver’s vision, Claus said.
“You’re surrounded by all this blue light, and you can’t see what’s in front of you,” Claus said, adding that a boater safety course would have explained the danger.
“Those blue lights are supposed to be on at the dock to make the boat look pretty, but when you’re on the ocean, everyone can see you but you can’t see anyone else.”
Miami’s Government Cut is a busy channel for cargo and cruise ships, smaller fishing boats and personal watercraft. At 3:15 on Sunday, it was nearing high tide and the jetty that protects its entrance was partially submerged.
So if the boat was going fast enough for the bow to rise out of the water, “then it’s very possible that he could not see any of those rocks in front of him,” Claus said.
Also, while the area is well lit at night by South Beach’s neon hotels and condominiums, this also creates a glare that can make spotting a safe route through the channel more difficult, Claus said.
“Especially if you’re going fast, there’s too much to take in,” Claus said. “There’s a lot of lights, there’s a lot of markers for the cruise ships — red lights flashing, green lights flashing, white lights flashing, and there’s a lot of boats running around. You have to be alert, and you have to slow down.”
A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez spent months in prison after trying to defect. 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.
Fernandez became a U.S. citizen last year and was enormously popular in Miami thanks to his success and exuberant flair. When he wasn’t pitching, he would hang over the dugout railing as the team’s lead cheerleader.
“When I think about Josie, it’s going to be thinking about a little kid,” Manager Don Mattingly said, pausing repeatedly to compose himself. “I see such a little boy in him … the way he played. … Kids play Little League, that’s the joy Jose played with.”
Mattingly then wiped away tears, and he wasn’t alone.