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José Fernández, one of professional baseball’s rising young stars, was almost lost at sea while defecting from his native Cuba nine years ago. On Sunday, the ocean finally claimed him.
The 24-year-old Miami Marlins pitcher died along with two companions in a boating accident near Miami.
Officials say the 10-metre boat was traveling at full speed early yesterday morning when it crashed into a rock jetty off Miami Beach, killing all three on board.
Authorities who probed the wreckage reportedly found no evidence of illegal drugs or alcohol at the scene. Toxicology tests are set to be conducted in Miami.
The boat’s owner and likely operator, a friend of Fernández, was thought to be familiar with the coastal area, according to a local conservation official.
“We just can’t say why this happened,” the official added.
News of the deaths cast a pall over Major League games, with the Marlins immediately cancelling their scheduled Sunday home game against Atlanta.
A charismatic rookie in 2013, Fernández’ backstory as a Cuban refugee captivated countless fans in Florida and beyond.
A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, he was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in detention while awaiting his forced return to Cuba. On his fourth try, at age 15, he and his mother reached Mexico, after a perilous voyage in which he saved his mother from drowning in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mother and son were later reunited in Tampa, Florida with Fernandez’ father, who had earlier escaped his communist homeland.
Yesterday, Hall of Famer Tony Perez, an executive with the Marlins organization, said “all I can do is scream in disbelief. Jose won the love of all. I feel as if I have lost a son.” Team owners said they were “devastated by the tragic loss of Jose.”
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred described Fernández”as one of our game’s great young stars who made a dramatic impact on and off the field. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family…and all the people he touched in his life.”
This season, Fernández was among the Major League’s pitching leaders with a record of 16-8, 253 strikeouts and an earned run average of 2.86.