“It’s going to be weird for me,” Giancarlo Stanton said.
It’s going to be weird for us, too. And wonderful and bittersweet and sad. It’s going to be a reason to get out to Marlins Park. To feel the power of the emotional tug of sports.
It’s going to be South Florida’s first real chance to say thank you.
Not quite 11 months ago, last Oct. 1, the Marlins season ended for Stanton with a strikeout, and 59 home runs for the year. It ended with an “M-V-P!” chant, an ovation and curtain call.
“It was something special for me,” he said then, of that season and that night.
The trade to the New York Yankees came nine weeks later — the gut-punch that let us know new boss Derek Jeter wasn’t joking about the imperative to rebuild Miami’s farm system. Wasn’t joking when he warned, “There’s going to be times there are unpopular decisions we make.”
Now, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, what’s going to be “weird” for Stanton is not automatically walking to the home clubhouse as he returns in pinstripes for his first appearance at Marlins Park since being traded for second baseman Starlin Castro and two minor-league prospects now on the Class A, pitcher Jorge Guzman and shortstop Jose Devers.
Jeter hosting the team he starred for 20 seasons will be weird, too. For him. But it’s Stanton back in the ballpark that’ll be weird for us.
We had Stanton a long time. Eight seasons. We remember him coming up at age 20. We remember when he was still called Mike. We remember the face-shattering pitch that could have ended his career. We remember 59 home runs — perhaps the greatest individual season by one of our pro athletes since Dan Marino’s 1984. Big enough for the company of the best of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
He left us with a Marlins-record 267 home runs, in a half-career that has him pointed to Cooperstown.
“It’s been a big part of my life, my time down there,” Stanton told reporters in New York on Sunday. “It’ll be a cool experience going back.”
Stanton has been fighting a tight left hamstring that has had him limited to designated-hitter duties the past 12 games, but, with no DH in National League-hosted games, Stanton is expected to be back in his familiar right field spot for this two-game series, albeit in unfamiliar clothing.
Stanton waived his no-trade clause to agree to the trade, but can you blame him? After eight straight Marlins seasons of no playoffs despite him and now the prospect of yet another payroll-slashing do-over?
“I wouldn’t want to do that, no,” he said as last season ended.
Now Stanton is headed for the first postseason of his career as the Yankees appear wild-card bound and, after a slow start, Stanton has brushed off the pressure of the biggest team and toughest fans in baseball to live up to expectations. His 32 homers rank fourth in the AL, his 80 RBI rank fifth, and he is batting .285.
“Obviously, he came in with a lot of expectation and lot of fanfare,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I’d have to say he’s been living up to that.”
Said Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto: “It’s just nice to see the success he’s having with the Yankees. He deserves everything he’s getting. It’ll be interesting to see him come back.”
Stanton is enjoying national appreciation maybe for the first time.
“He was appreciated [in Miami] by the [fans] who were there,” Realmuto said. “But obviously we don’t draw as well as other teams and we don’t get talked about near as much. So definitely [he wasn’t] as appreciated as he is with the Yankees right now. They’re on TV every night. He was a little more of a hidden gem [in Miami] than he deserved to be.”
Stanton’s 267 homers for Miami and 32 for the Yanks puts him on the doorstep of a major career milestone.
“We’re not going to let him get a homer,” Realmuto said. “We’re going to try especially hard, because we know him, to not let him get a homer.”
No. 300 could come Tuesday or Wednesday in front of the fans who raised Stanton.
“That would be really cool if I did that,” he said.
And if he does, could you blame a Marlins fan for standing to cheer? That might be out of habit or it might be thanks for the memories. Either way, it wouldn’t feel weird. It’d feel right.
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