Don Chase walked about Marlins Park on Saturday wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap.
“Out of protest,” he grumbled.
Chase, a 54-year-old lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, was among several thousand fans who showed up for the Marlins’ “Winter Warm Up,” which availed them a chance to mingle with Marlins players, buy single-game tickets to the 2013 season for the first time and catch baseball fever on the eve of spring training.
But Chase, like many Marlins fans, is bitter. He’s angry that the team traded so many players in what marked yet another fire sale for a franchise that has experienced several. For Chase, the final punch to the gut was the blockbuster deal in November with Toronto in which the Marlins dealt five prominent players to the Blue Jays in exchange for mostly young and inexpensive talent.
Thus the Blue Jays cap.
“For Christmas 2011, we bought Miami Marlins presents,” Chase said. “For Christmas 2012, it was Blue Jays.”
And Chase doesn’t plan to support the Marlins at the box office.
“We had a 20-game plan last year,” he said. “We did not renew.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Jorge Hidalgo of Miami is no different.
“Last year I went to over 30 games,” he said. “This year, if I go to two, it’s a lot. And if I go, it’s because I’m going to protest.”
Hidalgo and his friend, Gary Cooper, were in protest mode Saturday, advertising their disdain for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and team executives with hand-made T-shirts. On the front they read: “Marlins yes. Loria no. Samson no. Beinfest no.” And on the back: “Marlins — Need a new owner.”
“When they built the new stadium, I thought it was going to be a new franchise, that we were going to be a winning team,” Hidalgo said. “And this is not it.”
Marlins executives are acutely aware of the anger, but said they’re ready to turn the page and move on.
“I understand where the fans are coming from and the upheaval,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest. “But it is time to turn the page. Organizationally, we have. I think it’s kind of done. I think it’s been hashed out enough.”
With Marlins pitchers and catchers scheduled to report for spring training in Jupiter on Monday, Beinfest said he will deliver his annual speech to the coaching staff and new manager Mike Redmond. He said it will be different from those in the past.
“My preamble to the staff tomorrow will not include anything about last season,” Beinfest said. “Generally, when I open things up with our field staff, we talk a little bit about the previous season and how the winter went. And my plan is not to talk about it at all. I think it’s had its time, and I don’t really think it’s productive.”
The Marlins expect a drop-off in attendance from last season. Part of it can be attributed to the normal second-year decline almost every new ballpark experiences after the honeymoon feeling has worn off. But the Marlins could also experience a fan backlash from the offseason trades, which will reduce player payroll from last year’s franchise-record $100 million to somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million, which will be one of the lowest in the majors.
Marlins president David Samson refused to make a prediction on how severe he expects the decline to be.
“Our tickets sold last year was a drastic drop-off from what we thought it would be,” Samson said of last season’s final figure of 2.2 million, which was well below projections. “And we suspect there will be a drop from that as well. We projected that, which is why the payroll is at where it is. I sort of hope us messing up last year doesn’t ruin the enjoyment that we could give people in this park.”
Odds and ends
“I’d like to see him come up in the first inning,” Redmond said. “You think about other power hitters. Mark McGwire, he hit third.”
Redmond said there’s “nothing etched in stone,” and he might still position Stanton in the fourth spot.
“Initially we were thinking the four hole, and it could still end up being the four hole,” Redmond said. “I’m leaning toward third at this point.”
Redmond is penciling in Juan Pierre in the leadoff spot and projects Placido Polanco to bat second. But he is unsure about who will hit behind Stanton. Part of the decision hinges on whether first baseman Logan Morrison is ready to start the season.
“It’s definitely not for sale,” Samson said. “Jeffrey loves being the owner, and we love Miami and we love this ballpark. Jeffrey owns the entire team and he’s not selling.”
The Dolphins have tried to distance themselves from the Marlins’ ballpark deal, and owner Stephen Ross has said the Dolphins are offering a better stadium deal than the Marlins did.
Asked if the Dolphins’ criticism of the Marlins deal bothered him, Samson said, “Yes. There are so many things that are being said that are incorrect factually that it’s staggering to me. I don’t believe it’s [Dolphins CEO] Mike Dee, because... I don’t believe he would do that. Do I believe there are other people lobbying for that renovation who would perpetuate complete mistruths who were unable to get our deal done or be hired by us to get a deal done? I do believe that.”
Samson said unlike the Dolphins’ proposal, “the Marlins did not have one cent of tax increase, and there wasn’t any money from the general revenue. The sales tax rebate in Tallahassee they’re seeking is straight general revenue. That is money that can be used for social services. Just say it. I hope they get it. I think Sun Life should be renovated."