Fans pay tribute to Fernandez at Marlins Park

Fans pay tribute to Fernandez at Marlins Park

MIAMI -- Fans, many wearing No. 16 jerseys, gathered on the West Plaza at Marlins Park on Sunday, paying tribute to the memory of Jose Fernandez, who died in a boat crash early in the morning.

A corner of the plaza quickly grew into a memorial, as fans placed flowers, pictures and balloons in the 24-year-old's honor.

The large video screen in the plaza simply stated: "16 Jose Fernandez." Streamers in front of the entrance gates read, "Today's Game Has Been Cancelled."

Amy Franz, originally from Washington, became a Miami fan because of her favorite player, Ichiro Suzuki.

Franz attended Saturday night's Marlins game, one of 30 she has watched in person this season. Fernandez threw her a ball at a visiting ballpark earlier this year.

"Very somber day today," Franz said. "I sit by the dugout, and last night, Jose was [messing] around with me when I was trying to take a picture of [Martin] Prado. He's just gone now. I don't know. It's crazy. Life is short."

The Coast Guard announced Fernandez and two male friends were killed in a boat accident around 3 a.m. ET. An avid fisherman, Fernandez frequently went fishing with his friends. He often wore t-shirts and hats featuring "J's Crew."

Inside Marlins Park, the grounds crew added the number, 16, behind the mound with a cap. Someone left flowers near the rubber.

A number of Marlins players, including Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich, spent a few minutes at the mound.

Gordon remembers Jose Fernandez

Fernandez's personal story is one of triumph and perseverance.

Born in Cuba, the right-hander successfully defected to the United States after his third attempt. He settled in Tampa, Fla., and was the Marlins' first-round pick in 2011.

At age 20, he broke into the big leagues and was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013. He was also named to the All-Star team.

"He was a model for Cuban-Americans and all people who need to work harder than most to have freedom," Marlins president David Samson said. "He represented freedom in a way most no one here can understand, certainly not me. 'When you're born into freedom,' he always would tell me that.

"'You were born into freedom, you don't understand freedom really.' That was his famous line, he said to so many of us. For all of those fans, what Jose would want, in my opinion, was for everybody who loved him to just make sure you always remember him and what he stood for."

Fernandez frequently offered his time around the community. Last November, a week before Thanksgiving, Fernandez was on the West Plaza helping hand out turkey dinners to those in need.

Manny Forte, who has gone to Marlins games since 1997 and came to the United States from Cuba in 1952, wore a Jose's Heroes shirt to the ballpark.

Manny Forte mourns the loss of Jose Fernandez.Christina De Nicola / MLB.com

"He's the face of what we have all strived to do: have our freedom, be able to have a good career here in the U.S. and be able to have all the freedoms this country offers us," Forte said. "He stands for that reminder of where we came from.

"It's a sad day for the community, sad day for baseball. Anytime [it's] someone like that, it's a sad day. It hits home since I love baseball so much. He's like part of the family, the face of Miami, the face of the Marlins. It hits home real hard."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

MLB.com editorial producer Christina De Nicola contributed to this report.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.