Miguel Rojas first felt it on June 29, the Miami Marlins’ official halfway mark of the 2019 season. The Marlins were in the midst of a six-run seventh inning to rally past the Philadelphia Phillies as the crowd at Marlins Park — announced at 14,774 — began getting into the game.
“The crowd was awesome,” Rojas said. “We need more crowds like that.”
The peak for Martin Prado — and Marlins Park — this year was Aug. 10. A season-high 29,720 fans were inside the ballpark for University of Miami night and watched as Prado hit a 10th-inning, walk-off sacrifice fly for a 7-6 win over the Atlanta Braves. Prado, despite the Marlins being 44-72 at the time, said the crowd gave the game a “playoff-like” atmosphere.
For Jeff Brigham, it was Sunday’s home finale against the Washington Nationals. The reliever threw 21 pitches as he battled the top of the Nationals’ order to earn his first career MLB save. As each of the three at-bats waged on, he felt the announced crowd of 19,709 getting more and more rowdy.
“Every pitch,” Brigham said, “I could feel it. It was jacking me up.”
The Marlins want this to be the norm, where their home ballpark has an electric atmosphere.
But, once again for the Marlins, these instances were exceptions to the rule.
Miami totaled an MLB-low 811,302 fans over 81 home games this year in the second year of the Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter ownership group. That average of 10,016 fans per contest and just 198 more total fans than 2018.
The Marlins’ last two seasons account for two of MLB’s five lowest attendance totals since 1999, the other three being held by the Montreal Expos.
There is one caveat: Not all attendance tracking in Major League Baseball is created equal.
The Sherman and Jeter ownership group has stopped factoring discounted tickets into their attendance number, causing the already dwindling numbers to take yet another hit even if the crowds at Marlins Park at times look similar to that from Jeffery Loria regime.
Jeter acknowledges the lackluster results on the field — the byproduct of the Marlins’ latest rebuild — has played an impact on fans’ decision to come to games. The Marlins are 55-103 heading into Thursday. So, too, have decisions of past ownership groups that have left the fan base questioning when — or if — the Marlins will become a competitive baseball team again.
But that isn’t stopping Jeter from imploring on fans to do their part.
“We need more fans to come out,” Jeter said. “I think our ownership group has invested quite a bit in the fan experience, whether that’s ticket prices, whether it’s concession prices, whether it’s capital improvements in the ballpark. We want this to be an affordable option for the fans of South Florida, but I’d be lying to you if I said we don’t need to increase attendance.”
The numbers tell the story.
The Marlins have the lowest attendance in baseball for a second consecutive year and the worst in the National League for the 14th time in 15 years.
Of their 81 games inside Marlins Park, which has a capacity of 36,742:
▪ The Marlins played just 18 games with an announced crowd larger than one-third of the ballpark’s capacity.
▪ Only three games had more than 20,000 people — and all three were special occasions (Opening Day, camp day on July 18 and University of Miami night on Aug. 10).
▪ Thirteen games had an announced crowd of fewer than 7,000 people, including three games in the 5,000-person range.
The Marlins went 18-35 when the crowd was under 10,000 at home games. They went 12-16 otherwise.
“You see how the players responded to that,” Jeter said. “Talking to you as a former player, it’s a lot easier to play this game when you have people in the stands. Now for us, we’re still trying to develop that trust, which takes time, and I understand that.”
So what can be done?
The simplest fix would be improving the roster, moves that can be done as close to $25 million comes off the payroll this offseason.
But Jeter was noncommittal about how much of the money coming off the books would be re-allocated to improving the roster.
The reasoning: Jeter and the Marlins organization are expecting top players in their newly revamped minor-league system to be ready to make the jump to the major leagues sooner than later.
MLBPipeline and Baseball America rank the Marlins’ farm system as the fourth best in MLB, with more than two-thirds of the club’s top prospects coming through trades, the draft or international free agent signings since the Sherman and Jeter group took over.
A handful of them — including outfielders Monte Harrison and Jesus Sanchez as well as pitchers Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera and Nick Neidert — could reach the majors at some point in 2020.
“You want to give them enough time to continue to develop,” Jeter said,” but you don’t want to block their way.”
Away from the on-field product, the club gave Marlins Park a makeover last offseason, reduced ticket prices and have begun offering cheaper concessions.
The Marlins are also moving up some of their first-pitch times for midweek games next season in an attempt to make it easier for fans to come to the park. Weekday home games in April, May and September will start at 6:40 p.m. Most Saturday home games will start at 6:10 p.m.
“I think we’re starting to gain a little bit of trust with what we’ve done with affordability, what we’ve done here in the community, our investment in player development, our investment in the international market,” Jeter said, “but we need to continue to develop that trust and unfortunately that takes a little bit of time.”