Miami-Dade County

What a birthday cake from Derek Jeter tells us about politics in Miami

Jeter and the Marlins lend a hand to the Miami community

Derek Jeter, executive director of the Marlins, helped distribute turkeys at the Marlins annual Thanksgiving event held this Friday, November 7, 2017, Marlins Park.
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Derek Jeter, executive director of the Marlins, helped distribute turkeys at the Marlins annual Thanksgiving event held this Friday, November 7, 2017, Marlins Park.

As Miami-Dade’s mayor, Carlos Gimenez boycotted Marlins Park for almost the entire time Jeffrey Loria owned the team. He publicly bashed the front office’s missteps.

On Tuesday, Gimenez emerged from a ballpark tour by new owner Derek Jeter with a customized Marlins birthday cake. “Happy Birthday Mayor Giménez,” read the blue icing that framed the Marlins’ team logo on the white cake, which Jeter presented to the mayor one day before Gimenez’s 64th birthday.

Even with Jeter presiding over a Loria-level payroll purge, Gimenez suggested fans give the new front office a chance to succeed.

“He wants to build a team the right way, from the ground up,” Gimenez said in a brief interview outside the county-owned ballpark after a tour by Jeter and other Marlins executives. “I understand what he’s doing. It’s going to be tough for a couple of years. … He wants to do right by the town.”

gimenez at marlins park
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez before leaving Marlins Park, where he had a tour of the county-owned ballpark by new owner Derek Jeter. DOUGLAS HANKS dhanks@miamiherald.com

The supportive remarks from Gimenez — who used to boast of his refusal to attend Marlins games at a stadium owned by the government he runs — signal the sharp political turnaround under way for the new ownership, even as fans are furious at Jeter’s roster moves. As a county commissioner, Gimenez voted against the 2008 public-financing deal that had Miami-Dade paying the bulk of the $515 million construction tab.

[Read how Miami-Dade’s mayor and Derek Jeter are teaming up to try and banish the home-run sculpture at Marlins Park.]

His opposition to the unpopular agreement helped vault Gimenez to the mayor’s office in 2011 when predecessor Carlos Alvarez, who championed the deal, was recalled by voters. Gimenez has attended only a few innings of one Marlins game at the park, and that was tied to a preview event for the 2017 All-Star Game. It was Miami’s first time hosting the marquee event, but Gimenez did not attend the actual All-Star game. Days earlier, he griped that the Marlins did not offer him complimentary tickets (Florida Gov. Rick Scott attended and paid for his tickets) and publicly recommended that new owners not retain team president David Samson in the front office.

Jesse Manzano-Plaza, a political consultant and lobbyist who managed Gimenez’s 2016 reelection campaign, noted it was common for politicians to steer clear of Marlins Park under Loria.

“That team was blackballed in this town,” Manzano-Plaza said. “That seems to be changing.”

gimenez and jeter jan 16 2018
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter tour Marlins Park on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. The mayor’s office released this photo after the private meeting. Miami-Dade County

If Jeter’s celebrity and relationship-building efforts have made the team more appealing for politicians, finally filling the stands with fans will be a much tougher sell.

“At the high level, there’s been a reset,” Manzano-Plaza said. “What will require more of a long-term commitment by the team will be to get the grass-roots [support]. That will require a new approach.”

Jeter has already dispirited fans by trading National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees after he, majority owner Bruce Sherman and partners purchased the team from Loria for $1.2 billion last fall. Combined with other cost-saving moves to trim the team’s payroll, Jeter is facing intense backlash from long-time fans and season-ticket holders.

Eric Jotkoff, a political consultant who used to work for the Miami Dolphins, said the early months of the Jeter era don’t look promising from a goodwill perspective. “The Marlins have a huge trust deficit to overcome,” Jotkoff said. “There was hope the new Jeter-led organization would really focus on rebuilding their trust with the fan base. Instead, his first major move was to trade Stanton.”

Shortly after Gimenez left Marlins Park on Tuesday, the city of Miami’s new mayor, Francis Suarez, arrived for his own tour by Jeter. The two had already mingled: Suarez was invited to a star-studded welcoming dinner for Jeter at Brickell’s Komodo restaurant last fall, followed by a Thanksgiving event where he handed out Thanksgiving turkeys with him at Marlins Park. While the county owns the actual ballpark, the city owns the parking garages next to the stadium.

“I”m excited about having someone with his brand in the city. I want him to succeed, ” Suarez said of Jeter. “I intend to support the team.”

Even so, Suarez noted that Jeter has only one route to winning everyday fans to his side: actually winning. “This is a town that will support you if you win,” he said. “I think we’re unique that way.”

A group led by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter submitted its plan to league owners to buy the club for $1.2 billion.

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