Miami Marlins star pitcher José Fernéndez died last Sunday in a boat crash alongside two friends
Miami Marlins players joined scores of fans who gathered at Marlins Park in the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana Wednesday to honor star pitcher José Fernéndez, who was tragically killed in a weekend boat crash along with two friends. He was 24.
Marlins team members bowed their heads and cried as they wore R.I.P. shirts and circled Fernéndez’s hearse before walking with their hands touching the car as it rode down the processional. Afterwards, teammates hugged each other and cried.
Tearful fans chanted “Jose, Jose” as the hearse drove by, and took turns signing a wall bearing the number 16, and also laid flowers and Cuban flags.
Fans were invited to join in an automobile procession that departed at 2:16 p.m. – a nod to the No. 16 jersey he wore for the Marlins – for a private blessing at Ermita de la Caridad (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity).
Fernéndez died after his boat overturned when it crashed into a jetty. A Coast Guard vessel discovered the boat at approximately 3:30 a.m. Fernéndez was discovered alongside longtime friends Emilio Macia, 27 and Eduardo Rivero, 25 – whose hearses were also part of the procession.
“This is a very sad situation for all of us. We are praying with faith and hope for his soul, for his family,” Father Rumin Dominguez of Ermita de la Caridad told 10News.
After the blessing, a public viewing will be held from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. at St. Brendan Catholic Church, according to a press release from the team.
Several fans and mourners spoke to PEOPLE outside Marlins Park to explain why they came to pay their respects.
“We decided to come down because he touched many people’s lives,” said Cuban-American fan Talia Cedenno. “He was much more than just a baseball player. He was a story not just for Cubans, but for people from all over the world – the fact that he was able to achieve something so big and taken too soon for the world.”
Five-year-old fan Rilan Diener also attended with his mom and sister, and has been shaken by the loss of his favorite player.
“I cried last night … I kept going like this [blows kisses to the sky] when we took a walk last night,” he said.
Adds his mother, Cynthia: “A couple of days ago I walked into the bathroom and I asked what he was doing, and he said he was praying to Jose … the night of Monday’s game he called me into his room and he just started crying. He fell asleep crying in my arms. Baseball means everything to him.”
A private mass is scheduled Thursday for Fernéndez’s family, as well as Marlins players, coaches and staff.
In lieu of flowers, the Fernéndez family requests charitable contributions be sent to the JDF16 Foundation at the Miami Foundation.
• With reporting by BECKY RANDEL