SAN FRANCISCO — The rendezvous point was the Willie Mays statue, just outside the main turnstiles at AT&T Park. That’s where they gathered.
There was the dentist from Los Altos.
There was his sister, an oceanographer, who had flown in from Hawaii.
There was the lead singer of an all-girl Motley Crue tribute band from nearby Sausalito, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
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And there was the ringleader of this hodgepodge group.
There was “Marlins Man,” all decked out in his blinding bright, blood-orange Marlins jersey and visor.
Marlins Man is Laurence Leavy, a Miami lawyer and self-proclaimed “spectator sports geek” who travels around the country buying front-row box seats to ballgames.
Always wearing his impossible-to-miss outfit, he has become arguably the nation’s most recognizable fan, something of a Forrest Gump-like character with a knack for showing up in live shots of batters taken from the center-field camera. He was just as big a star at last year’s World Series as any of the players.
“You’re great, Marlins Man,” says a man in a Giants T-shirt, who approaches Leavy after spotting him standing outside the ballpark before Friday’s game. “I love seeing you on TV.”
Leavy is here to see his favorite team, the Marlins.
But Leavy has taken his fandom to a new extreme this season. Instead of buying the primo seats only for himself, he’s using his Facebook account (3,192 friends and counting) and inviting total strangers — three and four at a time — to sit with him.
And not just at Marlins games in Miami.
He went to Boston to catch a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park. He traveled to St. Louis to see the Cardinals-Reds game at Busch Stadium. He is heading to Detroit on Sunday for Tigers-Royals. At every stop, he has bought tickets for fans who want to sit with Marlins Man in the best seats in the ballpark.
“It was a blast; amazing,” said Jeremy Mathis, a 35-year-old home security manager from Joplin, Missouri, who took up Leavy’s offer to see a Cardinals game in St. Louis a few weeks ago. “It was neat taking that in with him. The three of us looked at each other at one point and said, ‘We’re his entourage right now.’ ”
Said Cindy Andresen, who was part of Leavy’s contingent Friday: “It was incredible. Everywhere we went, people wanted a picture with him. He was nice to everybody. He made everybody’s day it seemed.”
Andresen is a die-hard Giants fan when she’s not performing for Cruella, a Motley Crue tribute band with a female twist. She goes to about 25 Giants games a season and sits on the first-base side. But she ended up in Leavy’s band of $300-a-pop box seats behind home plate on Friday.
“It’s effected my life positively, just the new people I met and being around someone so awesome,” Andresen said.
Leavy said he is not doing it for the attention. He receives plenty of that just from being who he is — an eccentric sports fan who darts across the United States in jets and drives around South Florida in a 1970 Cadillac DeVille convertible that’s painted in the Marlins’ colors.
The other day, Leavy said he was contacted at his hotel in San Francisco by someone wondering whether he would mind being the subject for a book, perhaps even a reality TV show.
“Told him I’m not interested,” Leavy said. “I told him no book, no reality show. I’m not in it for that. I just want to experience in person what I used to watch on TV.”
Meaning baseball games and other sporting events.
Leavy, who is not married, used to go with a girlfriend. But they broke up a year ago, and he started going alone to games. That is, until he came up with an idea to give away tickets and involve others.
See, the free tickets he’s giving away come with one simple request from Leavy: that those receiving them “pay it forward” by performing some benevolent act of kindness for others in need.
So Mathis, for example, bought groceries for a woman and shoes for one of his son’s classmates after seeing the Cardinals game with Leavy.
Andresen, after taking in Friday’s game with Leavy, said: “Now I’m going to look harder for ways to be nice to people.”
Once they have proved to Leavy they have performed some act of kindness, he sends them a T-shirt with a profile of the Marlins Man face and the words “Pay It Forward” written on the front.
“I’m actually having a positive influence on strangers’ lives, and I feel like I’m making a difference,” Leavy said. “When I see the smile on these people’s faces, all the problems they have in their life — a guy’s sick wife, or his mother’s passed away — all their problems are gone for a three-hour sporting event.”
Leavy said that after going to Detroit to see the Tigers and Royals on Sunday, he will head off to Baltimore for next Saturday’s Preakness — the second leg of the horse racing Triple Crown — followed by a full itinerary of major-league games the rest of the summer.
All along the journey, he will be joined by strangers-turned-friends.
“It’s been an incredible feeling,” he said. “It’s like a drug. It makes me want to do more.”