Miami Marlins

Sailors’ debut a long one: Baby Marlins fall in 13 innings

Miami Herald sports writer

Dan Le Batard
Dan Le Batard

The following story appeared in the June 16, 1992 edition of the Miami Herald

Mark Skeels graduated from Stanford on Sunday afternoon. He got on a plane in San Francisco at 11:30 p.m., flew all morning and didn’t arrive here until 9:45 Monday morning. He was in a baseball uniform a few hours later, exhausted.

“During the commencement speech, all I could think about was this game, “ Skeels said. “Growing up as a kid, you always dream of finally playing pro baseball. You don’t dream of graduating. Hey, as a kid, you buy baseball cards. You don’t buy cards for commencement speakers.”

Eleven months and 10 days after South Florida was awarded a major-league franchise, the baby Marlins wobbled from the womb and fell on their face Monday evening. Playing the first game in Marlins’ history, the Erie Sailors, the organization’s first minor-league affiliate, lost to the Jamestown Expos, 6-5, in 13 innings.

The game ran past midnight, four hours and 36 minutes of history in all.

john
John Lynch, who is now the general manager for the San Francisco 49ers, was the first person to throw a pitch in the Marlins organization when he took the mound for the Erie Sailors on June 15, 1992.

It was a perfectly symbolic way for an expansion team to stumble into existence. Erie allowed three unearned runs, one of which scored when the second baseman didn’t realize a runner was coming home. Fourteen Erie batters were retired before a Sailor could manage a hit.

Enough baseball, though. Monday wasn’t about stats or scores or any such silliness. The sellout crowd of 4,067 was here to see history, which is why the people lined up around the block before the game and then pressed against the chain-link fences down the right- and left-field lines during it. If these fans cared about who won or lost, the stadium would not have emptied like it did after the ninth inning, with the game still tied, 4-4.

“I’ve got a lot of chills, “ Marlins President Carl Barger said. “This is baseball. Finally.”

CarlBarger
Marlins President Carl Barger

The play was pure small-time, with Erie pitchers walking 11 batters, both teams combining for five errors and the poor Jamestown catcher allowing five passed balls. But the people didn’t care. If they hadn’t stopped selling tickets, they may have had to do what they did here in the 1940s, when the overflow crowd was allowed to sit smack dab in center field.

Twenty-six Marlins officials flew in from South Florida for the game on the largest of owner H. Wayne Huizenga’s three jets, a BAC-111. They filed into dumpy Ainsworth Field wearing suits and Sailors caps, kicking up dust with their dress shoes. They spent the chilly evening sitting in the wooden VIP box built just for them.

Huizenga, who wore his cap backward in the ninth inning in a failed attempt to start a rally, was asked if he would take home a memento, perhaps the first ball. He said no. A mini- museum will be built in Joe Robbie Stadium, he said.

“This doesn’t belong to us, “ Huizenga said. “This belongs to all of South Florida. This all needs to be preserved. One of the first things we did after getting a franchise was hire an archivist. We don’t want people searching through boxes looking for our history.”

The Marlins’ contingent stayed throughout the game and then flew back afterward. Huizenga has to be in Europe today to buy more video stores or something. General Manager Dave Dombrowski drove 3 1/2 hours from Toronto to get here and then drove back afterward so he could continue scouting major-league games.

This doesn’t belong to us. This belongs to all of South Florida. This all needs to be preserved. One of the first things we did after getting a franchise was hire an archivist. We don’t want people searching through boxes looking for our history.

Wayne Huizenga, Marlins first owner

“A lot of driving but worth it, “ he said.

Given the quality of play Monday night, it seems only right that comedian Bill Murray is a part owner of the Sailors. Last year, in fact, Murray attended a game. When the first pitch was called a strike, Murray scampered onto the field and handed the umpire a dollar. Alas, he couldn’t make it Monday because he is filming a movie. Didn’t matter. There was enough humor without him.

The bat, for example. Not a wooden bat. A winged bat. When the players dressed in the clubhouse before the game -- the one located in the middle-school gymnasium behind center field -- they heard a thwack, thwack, thwack above them.

“A bunch of the guys thought it was a sparrow, “ pitcher Ryan Whitman said, “until they saw it hanging upside down by its feet.”

For reasons no one could explain, the Sailors unveiled three historic mascots on this evening. There was the annoying Erie clown, who walked through the bulging stands honking his horn. There was the hairy Erie gorilla, who wore his costume even though he was really the groundskeeper. And then there was this animal, possibly of the bird species, who walked around the field in a Sailors costume complete with fluorescent orange sneakers and socks.

“Nice socks, “ said Barger, adding that the Marlins’ mascot will look nothing like this. The Bird Thing, to its credit, likes to drive large, four-wheel vehicles through the opposing bullpen, sending relievers scurrying.

For reasons no one could explain, the Sailors unveiled three historic mascots on this evening. There was the annoying Erie clown, who walked through the bulging stands honking his horn. There was the hairy Erie gorilla, who wore his costume even though he was really the groundskeeper. And then there was this animal, possibly of the bird species, who walked around the field in a Sailors costume complete with flourescent orange sneakers and socks.

Marlins starter John Lynch threw six straight balls before finally throwing the first strike in team history. He said he was “a little nervous” because of the crowd and the occasion and the fact that his parents had flown in from San Diego to see him.

“Felt kind of neat, “ is how he described throwing the first pitch in team history.

They are a diverse crew, the baby Marlins. The catcher, Gousha, is only 21 but has already overcome cancer. The third baseman, Italian Lou Lucca, wears a bulky, gold 220 around his neck (short for “second to none”). The right fielder, Willie Brown, is a substitute English teacher in the offseason.

fred
Fredi R. Gonzalez, father of new Marlins manager Fredi J. Gonzalez, holds a hat Fredi used when he played for the minor league Erie Sailors, just a small part of the vast collection of memorabilia dedicated to his son's baseball career. DAVID ADAME Miami Herald File

They had been together all of eight days before Monday, practicing in Delray Beach. When Skeels arrived from San Francisco and took batting practice Monday afternoon, hitting coach Jose Castro had to ask him if he was a switch-hitter. Manager Fredi Gonzalez, a graduate of Southridge High School, admitted that he doesn’t know his shortstop’s name.

Both teams scored a run in the 10th inning, but Erie reliever Don Lemon, who came on in the 13th, allowed three consecutive singles to take the loss. Erie leadoff man Brad Clem, who took the first swing in team history, also took Monday’s last swing. He grounded out to first with the tying run on second.

“Graduating was the biggest day in the life of my parents, “ said Skeels, the Stanford catcher. “This is it for me.”

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