As the strangest season we have seen in South Florida sports bore in close, I asked Marlins president David Samson this week if he understood how most people in Miami, the teams would-be fans, feel about franchise owner Jeffrey Loria. Hated was a word I happened to use, although something stronger to better convey the venom might have been more fitting.
He knew. He also knew that arguing the basic fact or trying to apply makeup would be hopeless.
I volunteered how many fans I have heard from who say they want to support the Marlins but wont again as long as Loria is the owner. As if Samson hasnt heard the same? That is the angry echo in season-ticket sales that have plunged from 12,000 one year ago to 5,000 today.
That is the No. 1 thing that makes me the sorriest and the saddest, Samson said. That means someone is not going to make a memory with their parent or child or client just because of me or Jeffrey. I think about it every day and it ruins my day every day. Try to look past that. Jeffrey cares. He really cares. Hes misunderstood. What he cares about is winning.
A big disconnect
He really cares, but has one hell of a way of showing it, apparently.
He cares about winning, supposedly, but sells off his best players (again) and presents a team young and (most importantly) cheap.
Samson is what youd expect: A loyal lieutenant to his boss and former stepfather. He also personifies the disconnect continuing. The tone-deafness.
Marlins ownership moves forward as if fans should be so enamored of the new ballpark that the players inside the uniforms hardly matter. And that the owners commitment to spending and fielding competitive teams his broken promise to do that is incidental as well.
Samson plows forward, unable to hear how he sounds, unable to hear that his conciliatory words are incongruous, and drowned out by the scoffs of distrusting fans who feel betrayed.
I and we are amazingly and incredibly and heartfelt-sorry for how it all went down, he said. I just want people to come to games and enjoy baseball again. People are upset and angry and rightfully so, but I hope they will try to look past that and just enjoy a baseball game.
Its as if it is a pure coincidence that people are upset and angry directly related to what Loria has done. Samson and Loria advising fans to look past their anger and enjoy baseball again is something like the man who robbed your house telling you to enjoy your safety and peace of mind again.
This is the Marlins 21st season about to start. Thats a coming of age number, but it feels more like a coming apart on this franchises timeline.
Including the Dolphins, Heat and Panthers, this Marlins season will be the 112th combined in our professional sports history, and I cannot recall a stranger one.
The team has its 1-year-old stadium in Little Havana, the new-car smell still in it, but zero momentum from the new park, zero sense of goodwill. The honeymoon is over. Was there ever a honeymoon at all?
The Marlins April 8 home opener might not even be a sellout. The club is scrambling to save face by at least filling all 37,000 seats for that one night, so the Marlins have aligned with Groupon, the discount coupon company, to offer reduced-price tickets. The team also is offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal, with a ticket to Opening Night getting you a complimentary bonus ticket to any home game in April or May.