Last season was a tumultuous one for the Miami Marlins. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton played only 74 games, and ace Jose Fernandez made only 11 starts. Manager Mike Redmond was fired after 38 games, and general manager Dan Jennings came down from the front office to take over on-field operations.
With Stanton and Fernandez back healthy and new manager Don Mattingly ready to take the reins, the crowd outside Marlins Park on Tuesday was optimistic ahead of the team’s season opener.
“With a healthy Stanton and Jose [Fernandez] back in the rotation ... they have a good possibility to make a run for the wild card [playoff spot],” said Dimitris Labatos, a 33-year-old fan sporting a batting helmet with the Marlins’ old logo and several pins from past Opening Days.
Several others shared Labatos’ sentiment, believing a clean bill of health for the club’s two stars will combine with Mattingly’s steady hand to lead the Marlins to their first playoff berth since the club won the World Series in 2003.
“I think the Marlins are going to do great this year,” 9-year-old Logan Bartels said, smiling from ear to ear as he approached the ballpark for the first time this season. “They might make it to the playoffs; it hasn’t happened in a long time.” Bartels’ eyes shined as bright as his new Marlins baseball pants at the thought of the club’s first postseason berth of his lifetime, and he said he’d be “super excited” to see his Marlins playing meaningful games in October.
Eight-year-old Lucas Christful has even bigger goals for the Marlins than Bartels.
“I think they’re going to set one of the best records in Marlin history,” Christful said before he entered the stadium carrying a sign nearly as big as his expectations for the season,
It’s not only young fans that think the Marlins are ready to take the next step. Holeman Key, a 62-year-old first-time season ticket holder from Henderson, Kentucky, is all in on the Marlins thanks to their new manager.
“We think he’s the best for baseball, and we hope he’s the best for the Miami Marlins,” Key said of Mattingly, who he watched play high school baseball in Evansville, Indiana.
Key predicts the club will finish with 90 wins, and he plans to attend as many home games as possible in his brand new bright orange Mattingly T-shirt.
The Opening Day crowd also had some international flavor. A family dressed in the colors of the Taiwanese flag entered the ballpark ready to support starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, and a mother and her son came from Japan to cheer on Ichiro Suzuki, the club’s 42-year-old outfielder who opens the season 65 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.
Diana Ballinger summed up the feeling outside Marlins Park before she and her son, 17-year-old Louis Ballinger, stepped through the turnstile and prepared to help unfurl the American flag before the first of 81 regular-season anthems at the stadium.
“I have high hopes for the Marlins this year,” Diana Ballinger said. “They’re going to really have a breakout season.”