A MARLINS TALE: FROM WORST TO FIRST
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
MIAMI, Oct. 27, 2003 --The Florida Marlins: from worst to first in one year.
I had started this column three or four times, anticipating a season finale short of a World Series title for the heart attack kids of Pro Player Stadium, but biased optimism over the Phillies, Giants, Cubs, and even Yankees forced me to hold off. Rarely in corporate America (hell, baseball is a big business, after all), has there been a more unlikely confluence of people and events to bring smiles to the hometown fans. Just consider:
We might also consider Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez languishing in Texas media oblivion for nine years as the Yankees made their usual October post-season hotel reservations; or original Marlin Jeff Conine returning to exceed the success of the cut-and-paste prima dona laden champs of 1997--or Luis Castillo and Alex Gonzalez slumping, or rather batting oh-for-Autumn, until snapping their slumps with key hits.
It's the reward for fan loyalty after garbage magnate Wayne Huizenga disassembled the 1997 championship to pay more attention to bottom lines, football, hockey, and video stores. Slowly the fans returned. Many of us were season ticket holders for those first five seasons, tearing up our contracts in disgust after 1997. Critics would say that the Marlins lost thousands of season ticket holders. In realty, few folks can afford season seats, so we split them with five or six buddies to hold down the cost. So, the "pass-along" impact of jilting Marlins fans meant tens of thousands of people staying away for the past six years. To be sure, the National League Championship and World Series home games were opened to the football seating capacity of Pro Player (named for a bankrupt clothing company), and 65,000-plus crowds were the norm. The band wagoneers, front-runners, and beautiful people from South Beach were there, but there were others such as an elderly couple I met in La Minuteria seafood restaurant across the street from Hialeah Racetrack, who never lost hope, who used senior citizens discount seats to show their true loyalty to the team, in lean times and great times. My favorite (and only) wife says for a few weeks many Americans--well, at least those in South Florida, talked about the latest Marlins midnight miracle. Instead of death and deficits, terror and turmoil, it was the speed of Juan Pierre, or the rubbery stretch of Derrek Lee. Sitting four rows from the top wall in the right field foul corner, actually above the bank of lights, I was surrounded by salsa dancers, Venezuelan flags, a stream of beer vendors who ventured into the nosebleed section, and lots of fun for the fans. We joked that when the opening ceremonies' fighter jets--four in formation--screamed from the subtropical sky over the stadium, the tail markings were much easier to see, and closer to use than home plate. When my son in Fairbanks, Alaska reached us by cell phone in extra innings, a buddy grabbed my phone and told him, "Hey, it's a great game, but you're closer to home plate than we are!" That particular game--Game 4--ended with a 12th inning Marlins victory. Those cardiac kids blew a 9th inning lead, and had to pull it out of the fire once more. Now, if we could only get their manager Jack McKeon to run for Congress.
Mark Scheinbaum, one of our regular columnists, is chief investment
strategist for Kaplan & Co. www.kaplansecurities.com and has rooted for Miami's
baseball team since they were a singe-A franchise of the Baltimore Orioles.