Domingo Garcia is a loyal man.
He was loyal to the Marlins when they were good. He will be loyal to the Marlins when they are bad.
During the Marlins’ home opener Monday he was in the stands with his son, who was nearly born at the moment the Marlins won the 1997 World Series.
“He was in the belly of my wife,” Garcia said, patting the shoulder of 15-year-old Carlos. “I hugged her, she hugged me and we began jumping up and down. She almost had the baby right then.”
So as the Marlins dipped to 1-6 after a tepid two-hit 2-0 loss to the Braves, Garcia was resolutely present, carrying his glove, wearing his Giancarlo Stanton jersey, buying a hot dog for his son and birthday beers for his pal, Manuel De La Mota, who turned 43 on Monday.
Garcia felt no guilt for spending money at Marlins Park, the controversial stadium that will eventually cost $2 billion. He felt no malice toward franchise owner Jeffrey Loria, reviled for his payroll purge. He felt no disdain for the no-name players on the$35 million roster.
He felt good. He felt elated, invigorated. Baseball season was renewing itself on a heavenly night with the roof open to a soothing breeze and Miami’s skyline blinking from beyond left field.
He refused to let bitterness obliterate the beauty of baseball or the optimism of opening night.
“I just love the game,” Garcia said. “Loria, I don’t worry about him. He’s a businessman who made a business decision — a bad one, but we have no control over that.
“I believe kids like my kid deserve to come here and dream that someday they might wear a major-league uniform.”
After an awful 2012 season, the dismantling of a $100 million, 69-93 team, rancorous resentment of Loria’s shell game and vows from hurt fans to boycott the team, Garcia is taking a zen-like approach.
The stadium won’t be half empty this season. It will be half full. (A crowd of 34,439 came Monday, but many spectators, like Garcia, got their tickets for free.)
The Marlins won’t be inexperienced losers. They will be developing their potential.
If you love baseball, adopt Garcia’s attitude. Otherwise, you may loathe it by the halfway point of what could be an interminable season.
He has a bond with the team, dating to his son’s birth. He knew third baseman Placido Polanco when they were young; they used to argue about which of their crummy Honda Accords was better and over a girl whom Polanco ended up marrying. As a construction worker, Garcia was involved in the stadium project from the demolition of the Orange Bowl to completion. He walks to games from his neighborhood.
“My wife wanted to move to Orlando,” he said. “I said, ‘No, baby, there’s going to be a baseball stadium two blocks from our house!’ ”
Garcia was able to calm his friend De La Mota, who wanted to conduct a public burning of his Jose Reyes jersey after Loria traded the shortstop to Toronto.
“It was hard to take — I bought this $135 jersey and I make $7.50 an hour,” said De La Mota, a parking supervisor downtown. “But Domingo was right. Baseball is in our veins. We are Dominican. Baseball is our thing.”
Other fans were angry, in attendance only in protest. Mark Floyd, an attorney from Lake Worth and season-ticket holder for seven years, didn’t renew after Loria traded pitcher Josh Johnson.
“That’s when I knew it was a fire sale and they were giving up,” said Floyd, who came to the home opener for the sake of his 4-year-old son but plans to come back only rarely. “They cut payroll by 70 percent. That’s an injustice. It’s unfortunate I’ll miss baseball, but I’m not going to pay money for a full season to see what’s essentially a Double A club.”
Other fans were mystified by yet another example of South Florida’s fickle fan base.
“It’s strange, and I haven’t been able to figure out the sports culture here,” said Josh DeBoer, a University of Miami graduate student and Chicago native (South Side, which means he’s a White Sox fan.) He graduated from the University of Tennessee, which packs 100,000 into the stadium on football Saturdays even when the Volunteers are mediocre.
“No matter how bad the White Sox are, or the Cubs or the Bears or the Tennessee football team, you go to the games,” DeBoer said. “You support who they are, not what you wish they might be.
“It’s a lot different here, seeing 10,000 people at a Hurricanes game.”
Maybe it’s time, finally, for South Florida fans to grow up. Enough whining. Enough with the excuses. (My personal favorite: There is so much to do here! As if there are absolutely no diversions in New York, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco.)
Loria has not been honest, wise or magnanimous. And Marlins fans have been abused by the emotional ups and downs of the past 20 years. But true fans don’t need a lovable owner. A lot of people who were not at the stadium Monday and won’t be throughout the season wouldn’t be in attendance anyway. The disillusionment Loria has caused is yet another convenient excuse to stay away. You could argue that the fair-weather, front-runners deserve Loria. They were made for each other, and they bring out the worst in each other.
“Miami fans have two faces,” Garcia said. “They’ll jump on the bandwagon when there’s a winning streak.”
Garcia will be back. Why would he deprive himself of one of the joys of life? He lives here. The Marlins play here. He will be loyal to his local team and its players, good, bad or last-place terrible.
But most of all, he’s loyal to baseball.