MIAMI — In August, Jose Fernandez's girlfriend, Maria Arias, presented him with a special cake at a family dinner to celebrate that they were going to have a baby.
Her father, Orlando A. Sanfiel, posted a video of the event on Facebook as the Marlins' star pitcher, laughing with excitement, cut a wedge into the three layers, revealing pink cake inside.
They were having a girl.
"I knew it! I knew it!'' he said, jumping up and down in his chair as family members hugged him.
For Fernandez, becoming a father marked a new milestone in a young life that had already been brimming with milestones: fleeing Cuba multiple times before making it to freedom in the United States; drafted by the Marlins in the first round in 2011; making the 2013 and 2016 All-Star teams; winning the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2013, andbecoming a U.S. citizen last year.
This year, he racked up 253 strikeouts, a new Marlins' franchise record.
More dreams were about to come true for the 24-year-old pitching phenom: after signing with the franchise in 2011, he was earning $2.8 million salary this year. But his agent and others estimated that he would get a long-term deal paying as much as $30 million a year when his current contract ran out in 2018.
But whatever joys and sorrows awaited Fernandez both on and off the field will never be known. Early Sunday morning, well before dawn, he was killed along with two others, Eduardo Rivero, 25, and Emilio Macias, 27, when their boat crashed into a jetty off of South Beach.
Friends, family and teammates continued their mourning Tuesday. Very few people close to Fernandez spoke to the news media, and those who did, did not want to be named.
There were unconfirmed reports that Arias had been taken to the hospital for observation Tuesday. Meanwhile, his friends streamed into his mother's home in Southwest Miami to pay their respects.
The investigation, led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is ongoing. Investigators are trying to piece together what led to the crash, where the trio had been and where they were headed. It's still not known whether drugs or alcohol played a role, or who was at the helm of Fernandez's 32-foot SeaVee when it flipped on the jetty about 3 a.m. Sunday.
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Arias, a graduate of Southwest High School, met Fernandez through her sister, who is married to one of Fernandez' best friends, Jessie Garcia, a professional fisherman, friends said.
Garcia's fishing team, J's Crew, competed in tournaments, and the group often spent weekends together. Photographs of the team are sprinkled across their Facebook and Instagram pages. At the center of most of them was a grinning Fernandez, sometimes covered in fish blood, proudly hoisting one large catch after another onto the boat.
For about three years, Fernandez dated Carla Mendoza, a 24-year-old Miami Marlins cheerleader, and the two had talked about getting married, though he wasn't ready, family said. Some news reports immediately after Fernandez's death erroneously stated that Mendoza was the girlfriend who was pregnant.
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"They started talking when they saw one another at the stadium and they started dating," Mendoza's mother, Maria Lourdes Reyes, told the Daily Mail. But in time, the team found out and Mendoza was fired because cheerleaders dating players is not allowed. The couple eventually split, she said.
Friends and family say it's not clear when he started seeing Arias, but she was pregnant not long after they started dating.
"He wanted to name the baby girl Penelope," said Magaly Junco, who is married to Arias' cousin. "She is due in February and they were living together in his apartment in downtown Miami. They were very excited."
The couple celebrated his 24th birthday on July 31. Instagram and Facebook photographs show Arias at Fernandez's side as sparklers were lit on his cake.
A week ago, Fernandez posted a photograph of Arias on Instagram, announcing he was becoming a father.
"I'm so glad you came into my life,'' he wrote. "I'm ready for where this journey is gonna take us together. #familyfirst.''
He seemed to know that he was facing another one of life's hurdles, and planned to conquer it like everything else he had accomplished, quoting Booker T. Washington on his Instagram:
"Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."
Contact Julie K. Brown at jbrown@MiamiHerald.com.