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Soler, Chapman among Cubs rocked by Fernandez's death

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Jose Fernandez when they were 11-12 years old and growing up in Cuba. They stayed in touch when both became big leaguers, and saw each other in the offseason in Miami. On Sunday, Soler woke up to the news that his friend was killed in a boating accident in Miami.

"It's sad. It's a great loss of such a great pitcher with such potential," Soler said. "I think all of us in baseball are feeling a heavy heart."

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CHICAGO -- Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Jose Fernandez when they were 11-12 years old and growing up in Cuba. They stayed in touch when both became big leaguers, and saw each other in the offseason in Miami. On Sunday, Soler woke up to the news that his friend was killed in a boating accident in Miami.

"It's sad. It's a great loss of such a great pitcher with such potential," Soler said. "I think all of us in baseball are feeling a heavy heart."

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Fernandez, a star pitcher for the Marlins, died early Sunday in the accident at Miami Beach. He was 24.

The Cubs had a moment of silence before Sunday's game, and the players hung a No. 16 jersey with "Fernandez" on the back in the dugout. On the Wrigley Field scoreboard, the only visiting pitcher number listed for out of town scores was No. 16.

:: Jose Fernandez: 1992-2016 ::

"Since we were kids, I knew he had something; he had a talent," Soler said. "He was very impressive."

Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman first met Fernandez in 2011 when he signed with the Marlins.

"He was always happy," Chapman said of his countryman. "He always gave 100 percent when he was on the field. He was just a happy person, always in a good mood. That's the most difficult part is what a nice guy he was."

Chapman said he spent time in the offseason with Fernandez as well, and they had long conversations about baseball, Cuba and life.

"He was very special to me," Chapman said.

Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who lives in the Miami area in the offseason, knows exactly where the accident occurred and said he has fished those waters as well.

"You just wonder what happened," said Almora, who was awakened by his wife with the news.

Video: STL@CHC: Maddon discusses Jose Fernandez's passing

Miguel Montero said he joked with Fernandez that he was going to send the right-hander a bill for breaking his bats during at-bats.

"He was a fun guy to watch pitch," Montero said. "As a player, you want to face pitchers like that because he challenged you. It's a big loss, a big loss for baseball, and more than baseball, but for his family. I can't stop thinking about it. Today's my son's [6th] birthday and I haven't had time to think about my son's birthday. I can't imagine how [Fernandez's] family feels today. It's a loss and we're going to miss him and the game is going to miss him as well.

"You could tell he had fun on the mound. He played the game hard. He brings so much energy to his teammates. He's one of the guys I would pay to watch pitch every time."

Anthony Rizzo, who also lives in the Miami area in the offseason, said his mother was crying after hearing the news. They know the area well where the accident happened.

"Every time he pitched, he filled the stadium," Rizzo said. "People were excited and always talking about him and how he pitched and how he was good for the Marlins and good for Miami. It's something that's going to sting for a while.

"The baseball family lost a brother today." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon recalled the first time he saw Fernandez was at Tropicana Field, and he asked pitching coach Jim Hickey about the youngster.

"That's probably the best I've seen of any youngster wind up and deliver a baseball," Maddon said. "I loved the way he went about his business, and I think we all did."

Several players expressed their condolences via Twitter on Sunday, including Chapman, who wrote: "Descanza en paz buen amigo ..." which means, "Rest in peace good friend." He included a photo of himself and Fernandez from an All-Star Game.

Reliever Pedro Strop wrote: "Es increible y Muy doloroso" (it's incredible and painful) and included a photo of Fernandez.

Montero: "Thoughts and prayers to the Fernandez family for this tragic loss. Jose was one of the best in the game. You will be missed."

Kris Bryant: "So sad. Prayers for Jose Fernandez and his family. Such a joy watching him play the game. He will truly be missed."

Jon Lester: "I tend to stay off Twitter on start days but I cannot believe the news about Jose Fernandez. The game and the world just lost a great one"

Kyle Schwarber: "Shocked and saddened seeing the news this morning. Thoughts and prayers go out to family, friends, and Miami. #RIPJose"

Rizzo: "Shocked & saddened by the loss of @JDFernandez16. An incredible player but even better human being. My condolences to his family & teammates"

Dexter Fowler: "At a loss for words ... Rest in Peace Jose Fernandez. praying for your family"

Javier Baez: "R.I.P. Jose Fernandez. Que triste noticia mano. Mis Condolencias a La Familia Fernandez, Mucha."

Willson Contreras: "Is so sad to just wake up and watch this horrible and heartbreaking news #RIPJoseFernandez"

Almora: "Wow, so speechless right now. My condolences goes out to the Fernandez family and the families of the other victims. Gone way too soon. #RIP"

Soler: "The world has lost an amazing baseball player and an even better person. #RIPJoseFernandez"

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs, Jose Fernandez