TAMPA (FOX 13) - The unexpected death of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez touched teachers and staff who watched him excel at Alonso High School in Tampa. Fernandez graduated from the school in 2011, where he won a state-championship during his years as a student-athlete.
Fernandez remained close with baseball coach Landy Faedo after graduation.
“You won't find anybody that works as hard as he does, that has such passion and drive to want to succeed and be good and win. He was the total package,” Faedo told FOX 13 in a phone interview.
The Miami Marlins pitcher died in a boating accident early Sunday morning. Authorities said the watercraft struck a jetty, killing Fernandez and two friends. Investigators said there is no evidence of alcohol or drugs.
Through social media, some Miami Marlins players described Fernandez as the “heartbeat” of their team. Current coach Don Mattingly remembered the joy Fernandez brought to the field.
"As mad as he would make you with some of the stuff he would do. you just see that little kid” said Mattingly Sunday. “When you watch kids play little league that's the joy that Jose played with and the passion he felt about playing.”
In Tampa, news of Fernandez’s death could be seen by cars passing Alonso High School on Montague Street Monday. One driver stopped to take a picture of the sign honoring the standout pitcher; “In memory of Jose Fernandez, fly high and soar proudly.”
Student Kayla Valladares left flowers underneath the sign and wore a shirt requested by her older brother. The teen’s brother graduated from Alonso High School with Fernandez, whose name could be seen on the back of the 2011 graduating class shirt worn by Valladares. The current Alonso High School student said she did not know Fernandez personally, but learned of her brother’s connection Sunday.
“I kind of didn’t know at first. It was kind of like, ‘oh another baseball player died,'" said Valladares. “Then he [brother] called me and said, ‘Did you hear? That used to be my friend. We used to be close and stuff.'"
Valladares wore the 2011 class shirt with student names printed on the back. The shirt included the name “Jose Fernandez” highlighted in yellow.
Fernandez showed a determination not always seen in teenagers. He defected from Cuba three times before reaching the United States on his fourth attempt. The then 15-year-old Fernandez traveled by boat and saved his mother from drowning during the trip. The teen and his mother eventually settled in Tampa where Fernandez enrolled in Alonso High School. The talented athlete shined on the field and grabbed the attention of the Miami Marlins. The team selected Fernandez in the 2011 draft and two years later he made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut.
Grief counselors have been made available at Alonso High School. Faedo is expected to discuss his memories of the former high school star athlete Monday afternoon.
Stay with FOX 13 News for the latest.