(SS) Investigators believe high speed was a factor in the horrific boat crash that killed Miami Marlins star Jose Fernandez.
The ace pitcher, who survived a harrowing escape from his native Cuba as a teenager to become a face of the franchise and one of the brightest young stars in baseball, was found dead early Sunday morning after a collision on the jetty rocks off Miami Beach.
He was 24.
“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.
“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 anyway 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, Fernandez’s teammates gathered. They, too, were tearful.
“And a lot of words were said, meaningful words and emotion and prayer, led by both players and staff,” Samson said. “When something like this happens, you take a look at yourself, you take a look at the people around you, and you realize that above all — above all — there’s just love. And a lot of love.”
Fernandez was one of three people killed when their boat hit the rocks and capsized on the north jetty at Government Cut near Miami Beach. The other two have not been identified, but one was the son of a Miami-Dade Police detective, the department said.
The boat was overturned on the jetty when a routine U.S. Coast Guard patrol spotted the wreckage about 3:15 a.m. Sunday, said Capt. Megan Dean.
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.
Eight divers went into the water and found two people inside or under the boat and one in the water on the south side of the jetty. None was wearing a life jacket, Veloz said.
Officials confirmed with the family members that there were only three people on board the 32-foot SeaVee center console. 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.
The boat had been inspected routinely by FWC officials previously, and that the operator was familiar with the area, officials said.
“The jetty is [made of] rocks and not very visible but the vessel has traveled through this area previously,” Veloz said. “The boat is a total loss. It’s bad. It’s horrible.”
The boat was apparently heading south, said Capt. Leonel Reyes of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Marine Operations Bureau. Veloz said it appeared the boat was traveling at full speed when it hit the jetty.
“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.
Capt. Rand Pratt of Sea Tow said coming into Government Cut can be confusing, especially at night.
“The biggest danger coming in is background lights,” he said. “You have to pick markers out of the background, and when looking at city late at night, it’s amazing how many bright lights look like navigation lights.”
He said many sailors also rely too heavily on navigational systems instead of looking at their surroundings.
“You’ve got to take it easy out there,” he said.
The boat was hoisted off the rocks of the jetty about 11 a.m. Sunday, and within a half hour was towed west down Government Cut.
Among those who watched solemnly as the wrecked and listing vessel passed were several fans wearing orange No. 16 Fernandez jerseys.
“It’s just a sad day,” said Owen Sobrino, 21, of North Miami, who had tears in his eyes.
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.
The Marlins players and coaches, cloaked in black home jerseys they would have worn on the field Sunday, circled around the organization’s leaders as Samson, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, manager Don Mattingly and third baseman Martin Prado spoke to reporters.
“When I came to the Marlins last year, I knew one of the main things about the Marlins was Jose,” Prado said. “We’re not robots. We’re humans, and we feel things. He made an impact on every single person on this team in different ways.”
Fernandez was the Marlins’ first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2011 amateur draft. He became a two-time All-Star and the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year. Through his four-year career he posted a 38-17 record and 2.58 ERA. This season, Fernandez struck out 12.49 batters per nine innings, the fifth-best average in the past 100 years.
He was also the Marlins’ biggest draw, with attendance and television ratings consistently spiking on the days he pitched — “Jose Day” as they were commonly known.
The Miami Dolphins held a moment of silence to honor Fernandez at their home opener Sunday afternoon, as did teams across Major League Baseball. Many people from across the sports world offered condolences on social media.
“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.”