Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez watched his first home game at Marlins Park on Wednesday, ending a non-attendance streak that stretched into five seasons and made him an oddity among Major League Baseball mayors.
Gimenez, a leading critic of the 2009 deal that sent $370 million in borrowed county money to build the stadium, watched the first third of the Marlins day game after attending a ceremony at the park unveiling the logo for the MLB All-Star Game being played there next year.
Following the on-field festivities, Gimenez joined Miami officials and baseball executives in a suite to watch the Marlins take on the Phillies, spokesman Michael Hernández said.
“The fact that the mayor stayed for the first three innings of the game isn't necessarily a milestone,” Hernández said. “The milestone is Miami-Dade County and Marlins Park will be hosting its first Major League All-Star game.”
Gimenez’s 2009 vote against the funding plan as a county commissioner put him in the minority on that 13-member board, but in the majority when it came to public opinion toward the unpopular subsidy funded largely by hotel taxes.
Still, it’s unusual for a Major League Baseball stadium to go entire seasons without seeing the local mayor take in a game. A Miami Herald story in 2014 was unable to find another mayor in an MLB city who steered clear of home games, even after opposing tax funds for the local ballpark.
Gimenez’s absence from the stands served as a high-profile example of the cool reception the Marlins received in the new ballpark, which has suffered through empty stands and weak on-field results since its debut.
Marlins President David Samson said he didn’t join Gimenez for the debut game, but spoke to him briefly during the logo ceremony that featured MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
“I was pleased to spend a few moments on the field with Mayor Gimenez,” he said. “It is nice to have a moment to reflect on the positive nature of today's events, that would not have existed but for Marlins Park.”
The lack of pennant potential and backlash against owner Jeffrey Loria’s payroll cuts are the main culprits behind underwhelming attendance at Marlins Park, though Miami’s reputation for lackluster fan support gets blame, too.
Marlins politics may be in the mix as well. The 2009 funding deal continues to be an albatross when it comes to county-subsidy considerations. When the Miami Dolphins pursued county funding for stadium improvements in 2013, the team took out full-page newspaper ads detailing how different the proposal was from the “bad deal” the Marlins received.
Gimenez’s debut at a Marlins game in Miami also comes as he faces a challenge in the 2016 mayoral race from Raquel Regalado, who has posted photos of her attending Marlins games with her son, a baseball fan.
Regalado’s father, Miami Mayor Tomás Mayor, also won office in part thanks to his opposition to the 2009 deal, but has since attended games with grandchildren. On Wednesday, Raquel Regalado issued a statement criticizing Gimenez for “watching a game in the middle of the day” instead of working on reducing a proposed increase in water fees for the 2017 budget. Hernández noted that Regalado’s father, the city mayor, was in the box with Gimenez and the other local officials.
A photo Hernández posted on Twitter showed the mayor in a blazer but no tie looking down on home plate, the park’s moveable roof closed for what turned out to be a hometown blowout. The mayor ate a hot dog, Hernández said.
Wednesday’s 11-1 Marlins win left the team in contention for a Wild-Card spot on a 55-46 record. That would land the Marlins in the play-offs for the first time since winning the World Series in 2003, when the team still shared a football stadium with the Dolphins in Miami Gardens.
Gimenez has always played down his lack of an attendance record for Marlins games since the county-owned stadium opened in 2012, his second year as county mayor. He went to a high school baseball game there shortly after the stadium’s debut, and joined Marlins executives last year at the ballpark to announce the award of the 2017 All-Star game.
Hernández said Gimenez wasn’t boycotting home games but that Wednesday’s appearance was the result of good timing. “It wasn't a personal slight of the Miami Marlins,” Hernández said of Gimenez’s five-season absence. “He just chose not to attend. In the summer months, he spends a lot of free time with his grandchildren.”