MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The community got their chance to say goodbye to Marlins Star Pitcher Jose Fernandez who was taken way too soon.
On Wednesday afternoon, a hearse carrying the remains of the 24-year-old player was surrounded by his teammates as it began its procession at Marlins Park at 2:16 p.m.
The players connected with the fans as they surrounded the hearse.
“It was amazing. Amazing. It was exactly what I expected it to be. Like I said, they are all hurting too,” said Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
“I now feel closer to the fans than I ever would,” said Marlins starting pitcher Tom Koehler.
The hearse headed to La Ermita de la Caridad (3609 South Miami Avenue) for a blessing ceremony. It’s a church that is very important to the Cuban community. Fernandez arrived in the U.S. from Cuba in 2008.
Father Juan Rumin Dominguez conducted the ceremony.
“This is a very sad situation for all of us but we are praying with faith and hope for his soul and for his family,” said Dominguez.
The ceremony – held outside the church was a “prayer service for the departed.” The hearse pulled up and was opened, exposing the casket carrying Fernandez. His family including his mother, grandmother and the public stood by as the priest blessed the casket.
Among those in the group was City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.
“The most important visit that any Cuban that comes on a raft or a boat is to Our Lady Of Charity (La Ermita De La Caridad),” said Regalado. “Our Lady of Charity is the common denominator between the Cubans on the island and here….that’s why the family wanted the last goodbye here. They’re saying goodbye here in the place that has the hopes and the tears, the ideas of thousands of Cubans that have fled the island. They come here to hope. They come here to pray and today they are coming to say goodbye to a very nice young man.”
Following the ceremony, the procession stopped by Cuban restaurant La Caretta (8650 Bird Road) for a flag tribute honoring Fernandez and the Cuban-American community.
Fans and employees raised cups of cafecito in his honor.
“It shows how much the community really loved him and has shown their support,” said fan Matt Gallagher.
From there, Fernandez’s remains were taken to St. Brendan Catholic Church (8725 Southwest 32nd Street) for a viewing that will be open to the public from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Members of the parish are still finding it hard to accept that such a young and talented athlete with a bright future is gone.
“He had such a nice smile and a nice face and you know the way that he approached people. You know he was a very happy, young person with a great future,” said parishioner Nura Cue. “It is difficult to find people today with such a nice smile and the warmth that you felt in his heart.”
Fernandez’s family held a private wake Tuesday night at Caballero Rivero Funeral Home.
Meantime, a makeshift memorial continues to grow outside Fernandez’s home. More flowers were delivered Wednesday morning. Friends and family were seen gathering outside his home around noon – wearing black or white t-shirts that said Jose Day.
Fans passing by had kind words to say about Fernandez.
“I knew he lived around here and I just came by to pay my respects. I just get goosebumps just passing by here and seeing everything that they’ve left,” said fan Roxana Castaneda.
“I think he deserves all this and more. He was a great figure to the community,” said fan Jordan Sanchez.
As his family mourns, investigators are trying to find out what caused the crash that killed Fernandez and his friends 27-year-old Emilio Macias and 25-year-old Eduardo Rivero.
It was a striking site in government cut where there were white paint marks on the rocky jetty where Fernandez’s boat crashed early Sunday.
Fernandez’s boat was discovered about at about 3:30 a.m. An hour earlier, a picture was taken of him outside the American Social Bar and Grill in Miami.
Investigators want to speak to people who last saw him.
Fernandez’s boat was believed to be going at top speed and officials say no one was wearing life jackets.
Toxicology tests on the bodies are pending.
A spokesman for Florida Fish and Wildlife says “FWC investigators are conducting a thorough and complete investigation of this tragedy. FWC has no record of any stops conducted on the vessel involved in the accident nor any record of citations or warnings on any of the victims.”
A private funeral for Fernandez will be held Thursday.
In lieu of flowers, the Fernandez family requests charitable contributions to the JDF16 Foundation at the Miami Foundation.