There is no doubt who owned this Miami All-Star Week stage from a national view. The New York Yankees’ young rising star Aaron Judge, 6-7 and with a towering, growing mythology just as big, made that claim as Home Run Derby champion even before Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Marlins Park, won by the American League 2-1 in 10 innings.
There is little doubt who might have owned Tuesday night — and held this city in his hands as surely as he held that baseball — had terrible fate not intervened.
It was Jose Fernandez’s dream to be starting pitcher in this All-Star Game that Miami hosted. He talked about it all the time. Now the memorial for him rises in the ballpark’s northwest plaza. His lockerstall remains untouched in the home clubhouse, entombed behind glass.
Fernandez died with two friends in a boating accident not quite 10 months ago.
“No doubt he would have been an All-Star. And he’d have found a found a way to be the starter,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said Tuesday of Fernandez. “His last five starts probably would have been one-hitters so he’d have forced the issue. He’s on my mind every day. Every single day. Especially now.”
Jose was always Loria’s charismatic favorite. The owner might have decided to sell the Marlins anyway. But watching Fernandez so suddenly and tragically erased made his decision to leave baseball easier.
That is why, as Judge owned the national stage here, Loria occupies the center of everything from a South Florida perspective. He has a franchise and its future in his hands. He was the 76-year-old New Yorker uncomfortably holding court in the National League clubhouse before the stars collided on the diamond Tuesday.
Loria is the imminently out-the-door owner of the Marlins, to the delight of most fans, unless he’s in the mood to be coy.
“I don’t even think about it. Do not think about it,” he said of the sale negotiations that are all over the news.
Is he confident a deal will happen soon?
“There’s no [bleep]ing deal!” he said. “Stop talking deal. There’s no deal. There is no new ownership. Will you please stop talking about it? At some point, maybe. Everybody sells something, maybe. Everybody gets married or unmarried, maybe.”
Miami — city and fans — had been the focus more than your typical host in welcoming its first All-Star Game. How would we do as the sale rumors swirled and Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer later this month loomed large on our minds?
Well, this city did fine. South Florida and its fans did fine. You did. Monday’s Derby turned a full house electric, and drew that event’s highest TV ratings since 2008.
And the Midsummer Classic’s crescendo Tuesday night filled the place again, a sold-out 37,188, although Marlins Giancarlo Stanton (0-for-3, two strikeouts) and Marcell Ozuna (0-2, one K) were quiet. So was the Derby champ Judge, 0-3 with two K’s. The whole game was quiet until Seattle’s Robinson Cano parked a solo home run in the right-field porch in the top of the 10th. The ASG was in sharp contrast to one night earlier. That’s what happens when you replace the batting-practice pitchers with, you know -- actual pitchers.
The pregame saw a moving tribute to Latin-born members of the Hall of Fame, Roberto Clemente to Tony Perez to Pudge Rodriguez. (Baseball flexes its history and heritage better than any sport, and this was a great example — and a perfect one for Miami, where we speak many languages, including, apparently, beisbol).
So Miami did fine as host, despite some trepidation and our distractions. The bigger, lingering question now is how Miami — team and franchise — will do from here. That starts with whomever Loria selects as new owner from among three finalists, an issue that has hovered over this All-Star Week even as Loria claims (ludicrously) that he hasn’t given it a thought.
While Loria hasn’t been thinking about it, there have been reports Miami businessman Jorge Mas was closing in on the purchase, and other reports that the group fronted by Derek Jeter (and now including minor-partner Michael Jordan) was close to a deal. Mas attended the ASG and sat in Loria’s owner’s box. Hmm.
Also while Loria hasn’t been thinking about it, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has stated that three groups — also including the Tagg Romney/Jeb Bush group now festooned by Miami’s Pitbull — have met the final asking price, estimated at $1.2 billion.
(Jordan? Pitbull? Who’s next as a window-dressing name, Bieber?)
All three groups have been variously speculated about as frontrunners. Only Loria will decide ... once he starts to think about it, of course!
But what then?
Miami has shown, the past two nights, that the people and the passion for baseball, both oft-dormant, are here — something still in some doubt in the Marlins’ 25th season.
It doesn’t require an All-Star Game to draw that out of us.
It requires an ownership that is solid and steady and smart and spends, one that has a direction and a plan, one fans grow to trust.
It requires that fans be willing to wipe the slate clean — all of those many fans who swore they’d come back when Loria finally sold.
Think about the sweet, communal noise of these big crowds the past two nights. The look of a full ballpark. The chills. The feeling.
This All-Star Week leaves Miami with no better gift than a reminder of the collective power this city has to start fresh post-Loria, to meet its potential and make big-league baseball here what we always have hoped it might be.