Hope sprung a gushing leak in the fifth inning of the Miami Marlins’ season opener Monday.
The Marlins — the least productive team in Major League Baseball last year — scored five runs on the way to delivering an inspirational gift to their stalwart, starving fans: A victory, 10-1 over the Colorado Rockies.
Was this bounty a sign of things to come for the woebegone Marlins, who managed to scrape together only 513 runs during the famine of 2013?
One of 162 games can’t be a trend, but it can be an omen, and the optimistic believers in the stands interpreted it as such.
“I went to a lot of Opening Days at the old stadium, and I have a really good feeling about this team,” longtime fan Spencer Myers said after Casey McGehee blasted a three-run double to put the Marlins ahead 6-0. “I feel excitement.”
The last night of March marked an annual rite of renewal for Miami’s baseball team, which has the most tortured history of any of our local sports franchises. It began with KC of the Sunshine Band singing the national anthem and Dan Marino throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and ended with fireworks exploding above the opened roof and downtown skyline.
In between, Marcell Ozuna hit a home run that animated the marlins, seagulls and flamingos of the mechanized home run sculpture in center field. Adeiny Hechavarria tied his career high with a three-hit contribution to the team total of 14.
McGehee notched four RBI. Giancarlo Stanton almost walloped a home run into the right-field corner. Jose Fernandez, 21, the youngest National League Opening Day pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1985, earned the win by holding Colorado to one run on five hits in six innings and striking out nine.
Fernandez energized the announced crowd of 37,116, largest ever at Marlins Park. Will the fans return to support a team that finished last in the league with a 62-100 record?
“I hope so because this team is special,” Fernandez said. “I see that, and not just because we scored some runs on Opening Day. We struggled last year with run support, but I know this team can hit. I think we’ve got a good team.”
Fans Antonio Hernandez and Jorge Combaluzier see the promise, too, and they’ve been there for the dregs, including a game attended by 1,600.
“Six hundred of those were dogs, because it was Bark in the Park day,” Hernandez said.
Their trust has been tested by the highs and lows of the Marlins’ 21 seasons — the splurges, the fire sales, a stadium deal turned sour. Ambivalent might be too kind a word for a broad swath of anti-fans who have pledged not to support the team until Jeffrey Loria is replaced by another owner. The level of animosity is so high among these fans that they would sacrifice the pleasure of watching baseball for the principle of not putting a dime in Loria’s pocket or a rear end in one of his stadium’s seats.
It’s this standoff that we are stuck with. The beautiful skies over Marlins Park are blemished by a cloud of ill will. The Marlins organization is doing its best to let bygones be bygones, but even the mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade County refuse to support the team. They lowered ticket prices, fired Larry Beinfest from the front office, promoted Michael Hill and Dan Jennings. Most importantly, they fortified the lineup with seven new starters on Monday.
Will that be enough to reverse league low average attendance of 19,584 (tickets distributed) and season ticket sales of 5,000?
“I’ve always loved the team and I love the new stadium, but we are due for a new owner,” Combaluzier said. “We’re always wondering who will be gone next. Stanton?”
Keeping the faith
Fan Paul Steele is keeping the faith, and predicting that the Marlins might even finish ahead of the Mets and Phillies this year.
“The Marlins can thrive here if they put a good team on the field,” he said. “In Miami, it’s a tough town of finicky fans. You have to win.”
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has seen a turnaround for himself. He played for World Series champ Boston last year after enduring a 93-loss season with the Red Sox in 2012.
“This was a perfect night,” he said. “It’s a start. We’re not going to be able to put up 10 runs every time out, but I see a lot of hope.”