MIAMI — Teammates of Miami Marlins pitching ace Jose Fernandez accompanied his remains Wednesday during part of a symbolic procession from the place Fernandez established himself as one of the game’s brightest stars to the revered shrine where South Florida’s Cuban diaspora seeks comfort in times of crisis.
Fernandez, 24, and two friends were killed in a boating accident early Sunday, a tragedy that stunned Miami and the baseball world.
A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was a beloved figure in the city where so many of his countrymen have settled and prospered.
The funeral procession and public viewing were the latest public tributes to a young man who fled his homeland by boat at the age of 15 and rose to baseball prominence on the other side of the Florida Straits.
On Monday night, in his team’s first game since Fernandez’s death one day earlier, the Marlins honored their ace in jerseys bearing his name and No. 16.
The emotional night ended with his teammates locking arms around the pitcher’s mound — some kneeling in prayer, others wiping tears. They placed their caps on the mound before walking slowly off the field.
The rest of Miami had it chance to bid Fernandez farewell Wednesday. The procession started at 2:16 p.m., in homage to the number on his jersey.
At a square at Marlins Park, his teammates — wearing white RIP T-shirts with the pitcher’s photo — surrounded the black hearse carrying Fernandez’s coffin. Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds led the team in prayer as they placed their hands on the hearse.
The next stop was the Ermita de la Caridad, the shrine to Our Lady of Charity. Devoted to Cuba’s patron saint, the Catholic shrine overlooks Biscayne Bay and points directly to the island.
The procession will then move to St. Brendan Catholic Church for a public viewing in the evening. A private burial will be held Thursday.
As the procession began, fans chanted “Jose! Jose!”
Fernandez and two friends — Emilio Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero — were found dead after their boat was discovered at the entrance of Miami Harbor early Sunday, officials said.
Coast Guard personnel on patrol noticed the vessel upside down on the north end of a rocky jetty shortly after 3:15 a.m., according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the accident.
Drafted by the Marlins in 2011, he rose to become the franchise’s star pitcher, named National League Rookie of the Year 2013 and a two-time All-Star.
In 2008, Fernandez made his fourth attempt to flee Cuba, according to a 2013 Miami Herald story. He’d been jailed for a previous failed attempt and, this time, was attempting to reach America, via Mexico, with his mother and sister.
Once on the open water, the newspaper reported, someone fell off of the boat, and Fernandez, a good swimmer, asked no questions; he jumped in to save the person. It turned out to be his mother, Maritza.
“And you ask yourself, ‘Why did this young man, who had been with us for such a brief moment, lead to such an outpouring of grief from a community,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor this week. “Anywhere you go in Miami, in the last 48 hours, it’s all anyone can talk about.”
Rubio on Wednesday asked the US Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the safety of the jetty where the accident occurred.