On Opening Day, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez looks ready to extend his own remarkable baseball streak: five seasons without attending a home Marlins game.
Gimenez took office five years ago in part thanks to backlash over the 2009 deal that sent $370 million in borrowed county money to build Marlins Park, which he opposed as a county commissioner. The park opened in 2012, a year after Gimenez was elected mayor, but he has steered clear of seeing the Marlins there. In 2014, Miami Herald research found he was the rare mayor in a Major League city who has not watched a home game at the local ballpark.
On Tuesday, hours before the Marlins take on the Detroit Tigers for their first official home game of 2016, Gimenez confirmed he has yet to see the team in Marlins Park. And he wasn’t sure if he’ll catch a game this season.
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“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Even six years later, the Marlins deal endures as one of the least popular decisions made by local officials in recent memory. Three sports teams pursuing stadium deals since — the Dolphins, the Heat, and David Beckham’s as-yet unnamed Miami soccer franchise — have made selling points out of their contrasts with the Marlins agreement. And with the Marlins payroll still low by league standards, some fans have been quick to ask why more money can’t be spent improving performance on the field. Team executives say poor attendance at Marlins Park hasn’t helped the revenue picture.
Gimenez’s avoidance of Marlins Park has served as a barometer for the 2009 stadium deal’s political toxicity. When the stadium opened in 2012, Gimenez attended a high-school game there but not a Marlins game. He stayed away for the first three seasons, and took time in his 2014 State of the County speech to note he “still wears his Marlins scars quite proudly.”
But last year, when the Marlins hosted Major League Baseball for a ceremony to announce the 2017 All-Star game would be coming to Little Havana, Gimenez was there for the celebration. Two weeks later, he sounded ready to end his unofficial embargo of Marlins home games.
“I think it’s time,” he told the Herald. “You know, the stadium is there. If they put out a good quality product, which is what they promised the people of Miami-Dade County, then I may start to go. … If they don’t put out a good quality product, which is what they promised the people of Miami, then I won’t go to the game.”
The Marlins ended up posting a losing season in 2015, with just 71 wins. Gimenez said Tuesday he wasn’t ruling out a home game in 2016, but would be keeping an eye on how the team plays. “I’ll play it by ear,” he said. “It depends on the product on the field. We’ll see.”
As Gimenez gears up for a reelection vote this summer, his primary rival said she shares the incumbent’s disdain for the 2009 deal. But Raquel Regalado, a two-term school board member, has taken in a few games and plans to be at Marlins Park later this month.
“You can carry this ideology to a certain point. But my kids love baseball,” said Regalado, the mother of two. “At this point, I think we should just support the team. We don’t agree on how we got here. But we’re here.”
Regalado is the daughter of Tomás Regalado, the Miami mayor who also came to office in part thanks to his high-profile opposition to the 2009 Marlins deal (which included city-built garages). He said he’s attended Marlins games with his grandchildren, and would have been at the park tonight to watch U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson throw out the first pitch but had a conflict with a city function.
“I still think it was a bad deal,” Regalado said. “But, hey, now we have to support the Marlins.”