You can still find stray bits of confetti around downtown Miami, remnants of the championship parade, but the Heat is now off the main stage it so dominated. The coming big events that would demand our sporting attention — Dolphins training camp, the Summer Olympics — don’t start for another month, one summoning the power of 47 years of local tradition, the other tugging on patriotic heartstrings.
The window in between has opened, the window that looks out on to baseball.
This is the Marlins’ time, in theory, at least. Now is when the calendar invites casual fans and South Florida at large to reacquaint with the team in the new ballpark, that chance to retake the stage accentuated by the team’s starring role in Showtime’s The Franchise reality series premiering July 11.
The question is, will the Marlins be up to the scrutiny? Can they take advantage?
Will we eagerly reacquaint with the team that set a club record for wins in May when most of us were otherwise obsessed by LeBron James and the NBA playoffs? Or will we cringe to rediscover the team that has June-swooned into the National League East cellar?
This is the pulsing opportunity for this team to begin to turn around what we must say at midseason has so far been a disappointing Year 1 in the new Marlins Park. The ballpark itself has not disappointed — but the team in it has, and yes, attendance has, too.
That’s why this next month with the Miami spotlight on them sees the Marlins in position for a symbolic relaunch. And this weekend’s home series against Philadelphia starting Friday night might properly launch the relaunch in a duel of the division’s two biggest early disappointments.
“School is now out, the [Heat’s] championship is accomplished, and we have a spectacular team — I still believe that, and I love our chances,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told us Thursday. “The Dolphins don’t play significant games until the fall. We’re going to play our significant games in August and September, and by that time people will be so in love with us they won’t want to go anywhere else!”
Give him credit. To Loria, the glass isn’t half full, it’s overflowing. With nectar.
A 35-40 record as the all-star break nears — dragged down by a 4-17 cascade since June 5 — has not deterred Loria from believing his team will end up in the postseason. In fact, Loria calls this the best Marlins roster in his 11 years as owner, better even than the 2003 team that won the World Series.
“It’s a playoff-caliber team, absolutely,” the owner said. “We’re going to have our run.
“The dynamic will change again.”
That belief puts the onus on Ozzie Guillen to make it happen. Despite the current slump and earlier Fidel Castro mess, Loria likes the job his first-year manager is doing.
“He’s keeping a very level head with these guys. I like what he’s been doing in many ways that are very subtle,” Loria said. “He talks to guys individually. He continues to encourage them. He’s a steady hand. I think that’s maturity.”
Loria would smooth over all blemishes with his optimism, and yet there can be no denying the new ballpark’s inaugural season has been rough. The stadium itself is great despite those lime-green outfield walls — eye-pleasing from the outside aesthetically and a delight inside with that sliding roof and air conditioning. Anxiety over parking problems has proved unwarranted. The park is a monument to the franchise’s long-term stability.