Miami Marlins ace pitcher José Fernández died in a boating accident early Sunday morning. He was 24 years old.
"The Miami Marlins organization is devastated by the tragic loss of José Fernández," the team posted in a statement on Twitter. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time. Today's game against the Atlanta Braves has been cancelled." Neither the team nor the league announced when the game would be rescheduled.
At a press conference, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard said Fernández was one of three people killed in the accident when a 32-foot boat crashed into a rocky jetty off Miami Beach.
Coast Guard Capt. Megan Dean told reporters a Coast Guard ship on routine patrol noticed the overturned vessel around 3:15 in the morning on Sunday. A rescue effort with divers from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue recovered two bodies from under the boat and a third from the water nearby. Dean said the Coast Guard has confirmed there are no additional victims.
A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife department, Lorenzo Veloz, told reporters at the press conference there was "no indication of alcohol or any illegal drugs involved" and that "it does appear speed was involved, due to the impact." All three victims, he said, were between 24 and 27 years old, and he described the other two victims as personal friends of Fernández's.
In an interview with NPR's Rachel Martin on Weekend Edition Sunday, Miami Herald sports reporter Manny Navarro called Fernandez one of the best young pitchers in the game.
"He was one of the most exciting pitchers in the game," Navarro said. "Armed with a fastball close to 100 miles an hour, a devastating curveball that batters couldn't hit. And the thing that people loved so much about José Fernández was how exuberant he was when he pitched, and even when he didn't pitch, he was the kind of teammate who was on edge in his seat in the dugout cheering on his teammates.
"José was the kind of guy who would try and hide from the manager so he wouldn't take him out of the game."
José Fernández was a young pitching phenomenon. The Marlins drafted him in the first round in 2011, when he was still a teenager. His debut season was in 2013, and that year he played so well he was given the National League Rookie of the Year award.
"For Fernández , this award crowns what was one of the best rookie seasons by a pitcher in the game's long history," reported Sports Illustrated in 2013.
This season, Fernández's pitching statistics were the best of his career. After a 2014 Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow, the ace pitcher came roaring back. In his first start following his surgery, he hit the second home run of his career.
This season, he had 16 wins and eight losses as a starter. Going into Sunday's game, he had the second most strikeouts of any pitcher in the National League.
According to his Major League Baseball player bio, Fernández was born in Cuba and went to high school in Tampa, Florida. He was scheduled to start on Monday in a game against the New York Mets.
In a 2014 interview posted online, Fernández described a difficult journey from Cuba to the U.S. as a 15-year-old. That year, his grandmother Olga Fernández traveled from Cuba for the first time to see him play for the Marlins.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's time for sports. And this morning, we have some sad news from the world of baseball. Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, died early this morning in a boat crash. At least two other people also died in that accident.
The Marlins released a statement saying they're devastated by the tragic loss of their teammate. Today's game against the Atlanta Braves has been canceled. We're joined now by Manny Navarro. He's a sports reporter for The Miami Herald.
Manny, what more do we know at this point about how Jose Fernandez died?
MANNY NAVARRO: Well, you know, Jose was supposed to pitch today, Sunday, originally. And the Marlins moved his start back a day to Monday. So I'm sure he was probably enjoying the evening out with some friends on his boat. One thing about Jose is he loved the outdoors. He loved boating. He loved biking. And so, you know, this accident was obviously tragedy. I guess we'll figure out what the details are in the coming hours but just a sad day overall for the city of Miami. As a Cuban-American myself, somebody who enjoys the game of baseball so much, to see a young man lose his life at age 24 who loved the game as much as Jose Fernandez did, it's just as tragic a day as it has ever been here in South Florida.
MARTIN: Can you tell us about his career? He was a rising star pitcher.
NAVARRO: Yeah, he was one of the game's best pitchers, you know, one of the most exciting pitchers in the game, armed with a fastball that was close to a hundred miles an hour, a devastating curveball that batters couldn't hit it. And this thing that people love so much about Jose Fernandez was just how exuberant he was when he pitched. And even when he didn't pitch, he was the kind of teammate who was on edge in his seat in the dugout cheering on his teammates, you know.
He never got a chance to pitch a complete game, you know, go all nine innings. Usually the manager would take him out in the seventh or eighth, and Jose was the kind of guy who would try and hide from the manager so he couldn't take him out of the game.
NAVARRO: You know, he just - he wanted to stay in the game so badly. And when he would come out, he would just sit there and just jump up and down for his teammates when they would win. And, you know, he truly loved the game of baseball. It was his passion. And very few athletes nowadays had that kind of exuberance, and Jose was special. He was one of those rare ones.
MARTIN: You knew him. What was he like off the field?
NAVARRO: Jose was just a fun-loving person, you know. He was always positive. He was never really down. You know, he loved his mother and grandmother. He was able to reunite with them here. They were able to - he was able to get them out of Cuba - his grandmother out of Cuba. He actually, you know, tried to escape Cuba as a teenager on a boat. He actually jumped in the boat to save his mother's life. She was in the water drowning, and he saved her life, got her back on the boat.
He tried multiple times to leave Cuba and was finally able to do so as a teenager, came to Tampa, Fla., grew up there, played high school baseball. And the Marlins drafted him with their first pick. He was just a superstar person on the field and just a great, positive person off of it. He loved - like I said, he loved his grandmother. He loved his mother. Every time he would pitch, he would look into the crowd, point to them - they were his life. And now his life is gone at age 24.
MARTIN: Manny Navarro is a sports reporter for The Miami Herald. And we've been remembering Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old star pitcher for the Miami Marlins who died early this morning.
Manny, thank you so much and our condolences.
NAVARRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.