For nearly two decades, the Miami Marlins existed in a barren baseball wasteland unbecoming of the opulent, decadent city that played host to them.
Players and managers, many anonymous, careened in and out of the lineup. Rumors of contraction swirled about. Ownership binged and purged on success and even their two World Series titles – as many as the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals in that span – seemed accidental, a byproduct of equal parts luck and naivete.
Such pinnacles were usually followed by anyone resembling a superstar being dumped at the curb for the next, new, anonymous shiny thing – as if the Marlins franchise were apologizing for its success and intentionally keeping their profile low.
Low it was.
The Marlins played in a rented football stadium that filled to less than 10% capacity on the regular. Most people I know, even people in South Florida, have never met a Marlins fan. The team was the only thing worse than being spectacularly horrible: They were irrelevant. Even when they won.
But now the Marlins are on national television on opening night. They host the defending World Series champions in their spectacular, spacious, pristine new home with that Aquarium-on-LSD home run fixture with splashing Marlins and Flamingos as the central feature that may or may not overshadow the $515 million downtown ballpark itself. That it’s squarely planted on the site of the demolished former Orange Bowl is no accident: Miami longs to be sports ultimate destination city, for players and fans. This ain’t your father’s South Florida.
Now the Marlins have plucked Ozzie Guillen, the mad scientist manager with a mouth that needs six bars of dial soap, away from the Chicago White Sox. Guillen has a World Series title on his resume, and leaves a trail of bulletin board and back-page material in his wake.
The Marlins dropped the bland “Florida” and embraced the flashy “Miami.” They have retina-jarring new threads to match. Jose Reyes and Carlos Zambrano have made the trek as splashy free agent signings.
Tonight, Emilio Estefan will introduce the new era and Jose Feliciano will sing the National Anthem. 37,000 strong will sell out the ballpark.
Perhaps most importantly, the hottest ticket in town will dwarf a potential NBA Finals preview being played just blocks away at the American Airlines Center, when the Heat – a team that truly constructed in Miami’s star-laden image – take on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Florida Panthers (yup, there’s a hockey team down there, too) play the Washington Capitals in a battle for the NHL Southeast Division crown.
Forget all that. The center of the sports universe, tonight, is in Miami – the city of vice and excess, fame and beauty, models and beaches, the L.A. of the East – for April baseball, of all things. The hottest ticket in the 305 is Josh Johnson vs. Kyle Lohse.
At 8pm EST tonight, baseball begins in Miami. But, more importantly and for the first time in Marlins history, Miami baseball begins.