Jorge Soler was 11 or 12 years old when he became teammates with Jose Fernandez in Cuba.
Even then, Soler said, Fernandez was happy and vibrant. On a team filled with talented players, Fernandez set himself apart with his positive attitude and powerful arm.
“We even traveled together to Venezuela to play in a tournament,” Soler said through a translator. “Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something. He had a talent.”
On Sunday, Soler and the rest of his teammates mourned the death of Fernandez. The Miami Marlins’ ace was killed along with two others in an overnight boating accident off Miami Beach. He was 24.
The Cubs honored Fernandez with a moment of silence before the game. The center-field scoreboard listed his No. 16 alone in the corner. Outside Wrigley Field, the marquee read, “Jose Fernandez – 1992-2016.”
Chris Coghlan wiped tears as he thought about his former teammate. Coghlan played with Fernandez in 2013, which marked Coghlan’s final season with the Marlins and Fernandez’s rookie campaign.
Fernandez reached the All-Star Game that season as a 20-year-old.
“His personality was so infectious,” Coghlan said. “He just had a joy for life.”
The tragedy hit Coghlan hard. He turned off his phone Saturday night before going to sleep. When he woke, his wife told him the news. He turned on his phone and watched in disbelief as text messages poured in.
“I lost my dad to a car accident,” Coghlan said. “When it happens that sudden, it just feels like a dream. You feel like you’re in a bad dream and you hope you wake up and it changes.
“I was looking at pictures of him, and it felt like he was still here.”
Like Soler, Aroldis Chapman mourned the loss of a fellow Cuban. Chapman sat quietly in front of his locker before the game. When he glanced at a TV showing a football game, he seemed to stare through the screen.
Through a translator, Chapman described Fernandez as a good friend.
“Living in Miami, we did hang out,” Chapman said. “We did spend time together in the offseason. He would come by my house, I would go by his. We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot.
“It was very special for me.”
Fernandez faced the Cubs twice this season. In his first meeting, he struck out 13 in seven innings to earn the victory. His second appearance came Aug. 2 at Wrigley, where he struck out eight in six innings but was outdueled by Jason Hammel in a 3-2 Cubs win.
Miguel Montero said he broke his bat the first time he faced Fernandez. The second time, he broke his bat again.
“I told him I was going to send him a bill for the bats,” Montero said.
Anthony Rizzo grew up in South Florida, and many of his friends remain Marlins fans. He called his parents when he heard the news. His mother was crying after watching videos of Fernandez.
One of Rizzo’s fondest memories of Fernandez happened this summer during the All-Star Game in San Diego. Rizzo played first base as Fernandez pitched to David Ortiz.
“He comes in and he goes fastball, slider-slider-slider-slider-slider,” Rizzo said. “We all got a kick out of that. The whole baseball family lost a brother today.”
Montero said the tragedy offered an important reminder.
“It makes you appreciate life a little bit better,” Montero said. “We get so upset sometimes because we go 0-for-4. That’s not the end of the world. It teaches you not to take life for granted. Enjoy every single day.”