I had just woken up from one of those “I’m about to collapse, I’ve been awake for 28 hours” naps. After working in the morning and attending two afternoon classes, I was ready to start my homework. ESPN.com was open on the computer screen. The headline on the right corner: “Source: Jays set to acquire Reyes, 4 others.”
Surely they couldn’t be the eternally-fourth-place-in-the-American-League-East Toronto Blue Jays, and it couldn’t possibly be the only free agent signing I genuinely had faith in from last year, José Reyes, the Miami Marlins shortstop. Imposible. It must be a trade in the NHL or the English Premier League.
But no, it was not.
Josh Johnson, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Buehrle. Words could not describe the frustration I felt reading over the names and then discovering what the Marlins got in exchange. I recognized two names, Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechevarria, almost solely based on the fact that they’re Cuban and shortstops. And I’m Cuban, but I’m no longer a Marlins fan.
Even if this trade somehow does not fall through, as it has not been officially announced. And even if it does and the Marlins overachieve, as they did many times in the mid-2000s with shoestring budgets and rookies scattered in Opening Day rosters, filling critical positions. And even if the Blue Jays end up footing the bill of 3/8 of a starting lineup and 2/5 a rotation that turns out to be a group of overrated ball players, I would not reconsider my stance today. This isn’t Dan-Gilbert-the-night-after-Lebron-leaves vitriol. This is a Marlins fan, tired over the years and more upset at himself for remaining one for so long.
Bad front office management and an overbearing, irrational brute of an owner are not unfamiliar character-types in the sports world. But we still root for the team — the players, that is — and still try to enjoy the game of baseball. But when the players are all gone, minus one, Giancarlo Stanton, there is no reason left to standby the team. No possible way to justify paying money, particularly to one that has already benefited from public money and free land to build a stadium in the shadow of the most storied Miami sports landmark, to watch a glorified Triple-A squad.
Please, out of respect to Stanton, ask him where he wants to be traded to, and trade him there. Recognize the once-in-a-generation talent he is and move him where he will grow for all baseball fans to enjoy. And move Ricky Nolasco and Logan Morrison away. With talent and stability around them, they can be contributing pieces to a good baseball team, not unlike Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez were to the American League Champion Detroit Tigers.
But this is about more than baseball. Much more. This is, in reality, a story about the city of Miami and the huge opportunity the Marlins and Jeffrey Loria and Dave Samson had in front of them to build something that could never be actualized in Miami Gardens, tucked away alongside crisscrossing highways and a Walmart. It is about baseball in Little Habana.
Now in a neighborhood near downtown and a few blocks from Calle Ocho, something truly special could have happened. I didn’t mind so much that the team benefited from the tourism tax because that is precisely what that tax is for. This was a prime opportunity to build something lasting. With a state-of-the-art stadium, vendors outside selling Cuban Fritas and bootleg ball caps while a live band performed with heavy rhythm against the backdrop of the Miami skyline. The opportunity was there, it merely needed nurturing.
But this is what happens when ownership is out of touch, when they lack foresight and are clueless as to what they’re doing both in terms of building a baseball team and curating an attractive atmosphere. This was their chance to show the Philadelphias and Bostons of the baseball world that Miami can build a fan base. But instead, they built an over-sized sculpture and signed an over-sized closer, both outdone only by the outrageous money blown on them.
In retrospect, it would have been unrealistic to expect anything else. Never has Loria or Samson done anything that made me believe either cared about the fans or the city. How do they expect to weather a third firesale that has left the team — again, minus Stanton — completely void of any identity? Do they really expect attendance to ever to touch 30,000 again, even on Opening Day?
The curious thing about sports is that the most outrageous of crimes can be pardoned by winning. It is why Lebron is no longer hated by anyone besides a few hardliners in Cleveland. And it’s also why Ozzie Guillen, a tremendously poor choice as Marlins manager to begin with, got the axe.
But if Marlins ownership is attempting to build a contender, then they are doing so in a deranged and irresponsible manner. Why sign all those free agents last year? Why not build from within from Day One? It makes no sense.
I do not question how they will survive from a financial standpoint, because they will, comfortably, even if attendance averages out to 14,000 per game. I question how they will sleep at night knowing they’re killing baseball in a town where it should flourish.
The record of incompetence is staggering. Signing Ozzie Guillen and Heath Bell. Leaving young talents such as Yoennis Cespedes and Gio Gonzales to be signed by more opportunistic organizations. Trading Hanley before his value peaked. Opting for that nauseating new color scheme over the iconic teal in which the Marlins won two World Series. Failing to lease one of the dozen storefronts outside the new stadium to a cigar shop or sports bar. Failing to make the commute from Downtown and Calle Ocho feasible for locals and tourists alike. Building a stadium with LEED Gold certification but providing no practical trolleys or bike lanes.
Is this it then? Is this the breakup, the part where I say, “We’ll always have Paris,” and part? Or do I recognize that this is part of being a fan, like marriage, for better or worse? The reality is, someone on the team will emerge alongside Stanton and the team will have its moments next year. And I’ll tune in and watch on occasion. But until the team trades Loria and Samson for prospects and cash considerations, I will not call myself a Marlins fan.
In fact, I propose a protest. Let’s “occupy” Marlins Park, but in relaxed Miami fashion, creating the atmosphere the stadium ought to have enjoyed. That means fritas and beer, even though there will be nothing to cheer about inside the stadium. Also, t-shirts, with TRADE LORIA in original Marlins teal. Let’s make it happen and actually have fun. Let’s make it known to the players that we support them, but not a dime will go to Loria. And most importantly let’s pressure Loria to leave. Only on that day will the Marlins be free to begin building something here in Miami long overdue.