Miami Marlins’ improved ballpark experience will include better-than-expected team | Opinion

The old-school mustard-slathered hot dog survived the makeover, but you might love the array of new concession options in the food court. You will feel a party vibe from a new section in right field dubbed Comunidad 305, where musical instruments, banners, and noisemakers are not only allowed, but encouraged. Where the giant, home-run sculpture used to be, there is now standing-room-only space geared to a “burgeoning millennial audience” there to socialize.

The idea: Marlins Park will be fun. It might not contain a winning team, but a festive atmosphere is your distraction, or consolation.

“We think we’re improving the experience,” as Miami Marlins star-CEO Derek Jeter puts it.

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The Marlins’ 27th season of Major League Baseball unfurls here Thursday at 4:10 p.m. vs. the Colorado Rockies, and the newness will be evident for Year 2 in the regime of primary owner Bruce Sherman and Jeter. A darker, nightclub-y new logo, new colors, ceviche, and mojo pork tacos are among the bells and whistles.

You know how cough syrup used to taste terrible, but then they made it cherry-flavored, and it went down easier?

It’s as if Sherman/Jeter are hoping a revamped ballpark experience makes the losses easier for fans to swallow.

Outside expectations, after all, point to a rough season for a roster torn down to be built back up from ground level. The stars are all gone, replaced by prospects. The team is young. It might be good in a few years, but, today, the expert guessers predict Miami will have a difficult time bettering last year’s 63-98 record.

Marlins Park workers working at the AutoNation Alley during the workout day ahead of Opening Day at the Marlins Park on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 in Miami. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Sherman and Jeter had history on their side with an “it-was-broke-so-let’s-fix-it” blueprint and complete rebuild. It isn’t as if Marlins fans are used to winning. In 26 franchise seasons, the team has made the playoffs only twice (albeit winning the World Series both times, in 1997 and 2003). The Fish have had a winning record only four other times, most recently in 2009, and never finished first in the NL East.

Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, and J.T. Realmuto — all traded for prospects — were nice toys to look at but didn’t equate to a contending team. Or to big crowds. It was all the rationale that Sherman/Jeter needed to go young, build for the future, and (oh by the way) slash player payroll and goose the profit margin in the meantime.

It’s no lose for Sherman and Jeter, who will either produce a winner as promised or get rich trying.

It’s mostly lose for the team in the meantime, at least until that future arrives.

As for Marlins fans, it’s a leap of faith to trust that the new plan is sound, that a young team will blossom, and that the future will be one of sustainable winning.

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But here’s a crazy thought that absolutely none of the baseball literati believes:

What if the Marlins aren’t that bad? I mean, this year.

The motto painted above the Marlins Park home clubhouse door — the last thing players see before they take the field — reads: Exceed Expectations. Always. The word exceed is underlined.

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They did that in spring training, finishing 14-10 — including an 11-game win streak. Third baseman Brian Anderson had a sky-high 1.148 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Shortstop Miguel Rojas batted .439. No. 2 starter Trevor Richards looked terrific. So did No. 5 starter Pablo Lopez. And No. 4 starter Caleb Smith had 19 strikeouts and only one walk this spring.

From left to right, Miami Marlins pitchers Wei-Yin Chen (20) Drew Steckenrider (71) Adam Conley (61) Tyler Kinley (39) talking during the workout day ahead of Opening Day at the Marlins Park on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 in Miami. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The young rotation, led by Opening Day starter Jose Ureña, looks like the strength of the team.

Oh, and Lewis Brinson! He was the Brewers’ No. 1 prospect who came in the Yelich deal, but the center fielder was hurt a lot and failed to bat .200 last season. This spring, he hit .275 with a team-best five home runs. An MLB.com article on bold predictions foresaw Brinson making the all-star team.

“His growth this year is going to be a story to see,” manager Don Mattingly said.

Confidence was percolating in the clubhouse on Wednesday.

“When some people say we might lose 100 games it puts a little chip on our shoulder,” said shortstop JT Riddle. “It was only spring training, but it shows what we can do together”

“There are elements of excitement in here,” as veteran left fielder Curtis Granderson put it.

The seven-story monument to home runs in the outfield is no longer as field maintenance crew prep for the team’s season opening game. The Marlins gave the media a tour of the new renovations and food offerings, ending with a short interview with Derek Jeter, CEO/part owner of the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 as the team prepares for the season opener against Colorado Rockies, Thursday, March 28th. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com

First baseman Neil Walker: “Nobody gives us much of a chance, but we like that challenge. We have a chance to open some eyes.”

Said Brinson: “We’re going to outwork everybody else.”

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Nobody expects a contending Marlins team in a very tough NL East. But a competitive team seems within reach. So does a team that might be fun to watch, filled with guys who are easy to cheer for.

These are interesting times in South Florida pro sports. It’s a Race to Relevance!

The Heat is trying to get to .500 and sneak into the playoffs as fans prepare to say goodbye to Dwyane Wade.

The Florida Panthers are eliminated from the NHL playoff race, seemingly an annual sad rite of spring.

The Dolphins are retooling and looking for a quarterback to guide their future.

The Marlins, working to be good someday, will be fun to watch if they can surprise us this season — an idea that bloomed fast this spring.

It would be a pleasant, unexpected addition to that “ballpark experience” Jeter keeps talking about.

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