Miami Marlins

As Rays reportedly flirt with Montreal, Derek Jeter sees growing goodwill for Marlins

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter: We’re trying to build something that’s special

Miami Marlins Chief Executive Officer Derek Jeter talks to the media before start of the first full-squad spring training workout on Monday, February 18, 2019 in Jupiter, FL.
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Miami Marlins Chief Executive Officer Derek Jeter talks to the media before start of the first full-squad spring training workout on Monday, February 18, 2019 in Jupiter, FL.

Goodwill hasn’t been a resource easy to come by for the Miami Marlins in recent years. Sell-offs, losing records and comparatively miniscule payrolls have the Marlins bringing fewer than 10,000 fans per game to Marlins Park this season, making them the only team in the Majors below the threshold.

The plan to restore goodwill, of course, is multipronged, and one of their biggest focuses has been rebuilding Miami as a baseball town from the grassroots up. It’s part of why events like the Marlins’ visit to Tamiami Park on Friday are so important for the organization.

“As an organization, it’s our responsibility to have this platform, to give back to the community,” CEO Derek Jeter said at a PlayBall4Allevent in Miami. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the last year and a half trying to re-engage with the community, but this is the right thing to do. You’ve seen a lot more of our organization out and about in the community.”

The unspoken subtext — or at least the subtext Jeter declined to comment on specifically — is the report Thursday from ESPN suggesting the Tampa Bay Rays are exploring the possibility of splitting their seasons between St. Petersburg and Montreal. The Rays, because they share Florida with the Marlins and have the second-lowest average attendance in the Major Leagues, are inevitably always linked with Miami, fairly or unfairly.

As soon as the report about the Marlins’ in-state rival was mentioned, Jeter quickly declined comment.

“Let’s cover that at the park,” said Jeter, who previously lived in the Tampa Bay area.

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Instead, he let his and his organization’s actions speak for the Marlins’ commitment to Miami-Dade County.

The most important difference between the Marlins and Rays is the park Jeter mentioned. Tampa Bay has been trying to move out of Tropicana Field and into somewhere in Tampa for the better part of a decade. Miami moved into its new ballpark in 2012 with a 35-year agreement — complete with a non-relocation agreement — to play all home games at taxpayer-funded Marlins Park.

The club’s vision to build up interest in the Miami metropolitan area is a long-term plan, too. The Marlins’ event Friday sent them out to Tamiami Park to help run a youth clinic, which also featured a game for participants from the Miami-Dade Parks Disabilities Services Program played at the Miracle League of Miami-Dade — a field the Marlins funded and opened in 2017 when they hosted the 2017 MLB All-Star Game.

“That’s the great thing about sports franchises. You’re out in the community,” Jeter said, standing on the Miracle League’s rubber field. “We understand we have a lot of work to do, but this is just another small step in that direction. But like I said, we’d be doing this anyway. This is the right thing to do.”

Although the Marliins still have the worst record in the National League entering a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, which begins Friday at 7:05 p.m. in Philadelphia, Jeter said overall response from the community remains positive whether he’s at a team event or just out in the South Florida community.

“They’re very supportive. I think they understand at this point what we’re building,” Jeter said. “We’re building something special, and a team and organization that they can be proud of.”