Before the Orioles took the field at Camden Yards for their final regular-season home game Sunday afternoon, players sat at their lockers and their eyes were locked on the clubhouse television sets, where details about the death of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez were being broadcast.
Shock and solemnness took over. The Orioles are in a playoff race, but there was a solemn tone before Sunday’s game, as the sudden death of Fernandez, one of three people killed in a boating accident in Miami Beach early Sunday, resonated throughout baseball that there are things bigger than a game.
“It’s a reality check, huh?” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Fernandez, who was one of the game’s best young pitchers, was 24. Born in Cuba, he made three failed attempts to come to the U.S. before successfully making it his fourth time.
After the Marlins drafted him in the first round in 2011, Fernandez was fast-tracked to the big leagues and became the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013. He placed third in Cy Young Award voting that season.
He was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA this year in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for parts of 2014 and 2015.
The Marlins canceled their game Sunday.
“All of baseball is shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in a news release. “He was one of the game’s great young starts who made a dramatic impact on and off the field since his debut in 2013. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the Miami Marlins organization and all the people he touched in his life.”
Showalter said he planned to reach out to Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who played for Showalter with the New York Yankees and is a good friend.
Orioles reliever Mychal Givens played against Fernandez in high school. Givens was two years ahead of Fernandez, but saw that he was an immense talent even as a freshman.
“The fact that he had to go through all the stuff he had to go through to get to America, that’s the biggest hard part,” Givens said. “To get his family here, and at the same time be focused to [follow through] with his career and go to school and be a great baseball player. To see him grow up from a freshman all the way to now when he was a big leaguer was just really impressive.”
Showalter said he woke up to the news of Fernandez’s death Sunday morning, and his thoughts went back two decades ago ago, when Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin were killed in a boating accident in Winter Haven, Fla. during spring training in 1993. Showalter, then the manager of Yankees, was part of a small contingency the team sent to attend the players’ memorial service.
Showalter said hearing about the news of Fernandez’s death put the game into perspective.
“There’s a place I kind of go to watch film of us, and usually I turn the sound off, but sometimes I get the announcers’ call and I hear the words “must win,’” Showalter said. “I’ve got it and the mathematics of it and everything. But things like this, you try to keep grips on what’s real and what’s not. … We know what this game means here and what it means in the standings today. … But I’m looking forward to having some of this stuff explained to me one day because I don’t have the answers to why.”