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5-year Marliniversary: José Fernández dies in boating accident

One of baseball’s most talented players, gone far too soon.

Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Heartbreak and hard-fought losses are part of baseball.

Perhaps the saddest day in the history of the Miami Marlins had nothing to do with anything that happened on the diamond. It occurred on this day five years ago.

In the early hours of Sept. 25, 2016, Marlins’ pitcher José Fernández was confirmed by the U.S. Coast Guard to be one of three men dead in a boating accident at Miami Beach. He was 24 years old.

The three men were had been boating in a 32-foot vessel after dark. It ultimately struck a jetty and flipped over. It was trauma and not drowning that killed Fernández, Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero.

A Cuban exile, Fernandez and his family had made it to the United States in 2008 after three prior failed attempts. The same ocean that had given his family their sought freedom had been the scene of Fernández’s death.

Fernandez would star at Alonso High School in Tampa before being drafted by the Florida Marlins with the 14th overall pick in 2011. At the time of his death, Fernández was in his fourth season in Major League Baseball and second as an All-Star.

The 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, Fernández had come back from Tommy John surgery to post a 16-8 mark and 2.86 ERA in 2016. He was set to start the next day and coming off a gem in which he worked eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over the Washington Nationals. A month prior, Fernández had broke Ryan Dempster’s single-season club record for strikeouts. He was the team’s most valuable player in every sense of the word.

In a city with a large Latin and Cuban population, Fernández starts were something to see. As manager Don Mattingly put it, Fernández resembled a child having fun when he pitched. His enthusiasm was as infectious as his breaking pitches were devastating.

For as incredible of a talent that Fernández was, he was spoke most fondly of as a person. Teammate Tom Koehler celebrated the fact that Fernández had a daughter because a little bit of him would be left in the world.

The scheduled series finale against the Atlanta Braves would be canceled on Sept. 25, but the Marlins returned to the field the following day against the New York Mets. It was slated to be Fernández’s final start of the season.

Emotions remained high for the remainder of the season and Fernández remains a South Florida sports icon five years after his death. On the fourth anniversary of his death, the Marlins beat the New York Yankees in extra innings to clinch their first playoff berth in 17 years.

Unfortunately, Fernández could not be there to celebrate, but Mattingly and others had not forgotten what had happened four years prior. It was on this day five years ago that Fernández died.