Marlins Manager Don Mattingly on Opening Day
If so much as one menacing cloud strays anywhere near Marlins Park on Tuesday, orders will be given to close the retractable roof and avoid a repeat of last year’s Opening Day blunder when raindrops sent fans scurrying and caused a delay.
This time, unlike last year, Marlins president David Samson said he won’t be relying on his smartphone’s weather app to make that decision.
“Let me be clear,” Samson said. “I have emptied all apps off my phone. Instead, we’re putting live people on the roof with binoculars looking for thunder clouds. If anyone sees clouds in any direction, the roof will be closed.”
The Marlins might have licked their rain problem at the ballpark.
But they’re still looking to end their long drought on the playing field.
When the Marlins embark on their 24th season with Tuesday’s opener against the Detroit Tigers with offseason acquisition Wei-Yin Chen facing Justin Verlander, they will be seeking their first winning season since 2009. That’s the longest current run of losing seasons in the majors.
And if they can manage to experience the playoffs for the first time since Josh Beckett tagged Jorge Posada for the final out of the 2003 World Series, it will end the second-longest postseason dry spell in the majors.
Only the Seattle Mariners, by two years, have gone longer.
Samson doesn’t need to look at past standings to remind him.
“All I do is look at my son,” Samson said. “My son was born two months before the World Series, and he’s about to be Bar Mitzvahed. He reminds me every year that he’s never enjoyed October baseball, and to me he represents all kids.”
It has been a long stretch of failure for the Marlins, who have carried high expectations into previous seasons, only to see them go up in smoke for one reason or another: lack of talent (2013), underperformance (2012), injuries to star players (2015) — you name it.
But the Marlins have valid reasons that this season could be different.
They have a new manager in Don Mattingly and hitting coach in Barry Bonds, marquee stars in their playing days.
Their own two stars — Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez — are healthy.
There are at least a half-dozen dreadful teams in the National League, including two in their own division — Philadelphia and Atlanta — on which they can feast and pile up wins. They have 64 games against six rebuilding NL teams that are already being written off.
“I like our chances,” said Fernandez, the Marlins’ 23-year-old pitching ace who is beginning the season with the Marlins for the first time since 2014, shortly before an arm injury knocked him off the mound for 13 months. “We have the talent. If we put it together, we can do some amazing things.”
Most baseball media experts are dismissing the Marlins this season, ranking them a distant third — behind the New York Mets and Washington Nationals — in a NL East division they have never won. At best, a few are calling them “sleepers.”
And that’s fine with the Marlins.
“We’ve had seasons where there’s been a lot of preseason talk, and it hasn’t led to during-season results,” Samson said. “So I think it’s better to not have preseason talk.”
Dee Gordon, the Marlins’ All-Star second baseman who became the first NL player to lead the league in batting average and stolen bases in the same season since Jackie Robinson in 1949, said he doesn’t see why any outsiders should be optimistic about the Marlins’ chances — not until they prove otherwise.
“If we want people to come, want people to be in the seats, win games,” Gordon said. “It’s pretty simple. We can’t expect people to come when you’re not good. Who would spend money on us? I’m not going to watch a terrible football or basketball team. We have to prove it — prove it by winning.”
Gordon said his Marlins teammates who have been with the team longer are “sick and tired of not winning.”
Yet he is hopeful the losing is about to stop.
“There’s no reason for me to show up if I don’t have confidence,” Gordon said. “If you don’t have confidence, why are you here?”
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is quietly confident, and he’s fine that few are picking the Marlins to end their long playoff drought.
“I’m thrilled to death no one’s picking us for anything,” Loria said with a smile while watching the Marlins take batting practice during Monday’s workout. “I don’t like predictions. It’s like a curse.”