Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Future may be bright, but Marlins stumble on Opening Day

Fans get wet as a rain storm moved over the stadium with the roof open as the Miami Marlins played the Atlanta Braves on opening day at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, April 6, 2015.
Fans get wet as a rain storm moved over the stadium with the roof open as the Miami Marlins played the Atlanta Braves on opening day at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, April 6, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The greatest summarizing quote of the Marlins’ latest weird Opening Day came from club owner Jeffrey Loria late Monday afternoon. This was as unexpected rain rolled across downtown Miami and began pounding the field. This was as fans were booing and whistling derisively. This was as team president David Samson alerted Loria, moments before it was announced, that there would be a rain delay.

“I’m pretty sure I thought we had a roof,” said the owner.

Opening Day would end in a 2-1 loss to the supposedly awful Atlanta Braves, offering a temporary small mute on the excitement and optimism surrounding this Marlins team and season. The result only seemed a fitting end to the day, though.

That old saying about “whatever can go wrong, will” unavoidably raced through the mind. The military jet flyover, timed for the end of the national anthem, was late. Pregame introductions found Marlins players traipsing slowly and nearly undetectably through the crowd (good idea gone bad) and finally trotting anticlimactically onto the field several names later. Traffic rendered the ballpark noticeably short of full — only Miami shows up late even when it has seven months to get ready — for the opening pitch. The home team quickly trailed, too. And Giancarlo Stanton already had struck out swinging.

Then it got bad.

By the second inning, baseball fans who had arrived for a buoyant, happy occasion were scrambling from the elements as Marlins Park’s elaborate retractable roof remained open. Finally, as the umpires waved players off the field for what would be a 16-minute weather delay, the roof began its west-to-east slide. You can’t hurry love or a retractable roof, apparently, so the grounds crew scrambled to spread bags of glorified cat litter across a puddling infield as by agonizing degrees the motorized roof began leisurely to cover the field and sodden fans.

The best meteorological forecasts and Samson’s own smartphone weather apps had failed him.

The monolithic cover takes 12 minutes to completely shut.

“Short of me pushing it,” noted Samson.

Thus, the start of Major League Baseball’s 23rd season in South Florida had seen another “first” for the still-new, 4-year-old ballpark:

A rain delay in a stadium with a roof.

“This was one for the books, that’s for sure,” said Samson, who feigned preparing his resignation. “And we have a no-umbrella policy, so that wasn’t great. This is how our season started. But other than that, it was as smooth as razors.”

Give Samson credit for the humorous art of the positive spin, or at least for a noble attempt.

“We made a memory for the fans,” he suggested.

There is something about Opening Days that the Marlins can’t quite seem to get right.

Maybe they should skip it altogether and start with Game 2.

In 2012, of course, the new ballpark debuted with the epic buzzkill of a Parkinson’s-stricken Muhammad Ali being wheeled out for the saddest pregame ceremony in sports history.

One year, in the old Dolphins stadium, the Marlins ran out of hot dogs on Opening Day, which is sort of like Disney World running out of smiles.

(What’s on deck for next year’s Opening Day? The gigantic home run sculpture beyond the left-center field wall toppling forward and crushing a cavorting Billy the Marlin?)

Finally, the roof shut and the crowd filled in to an announced sellout of 36,969. The Marlins might have made all of the minor calamities fade to the right kind of memory with a heroic finish but could not.

Failing to score in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and no outs didn’t help. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who grounded into a double play, is now 2 for 14 as a Marlin with the bases loaded. And Stanton, the $325 Million Man, was a quiet 1 for 4 with a single, the homer sculpture left unanimated.

Base-running errors partly owed to the damp field contributed.

“When you lose games mentally rather than by your play, that’s different,” Stanton said.

Of course, it’s dumb to apply undo weight to any one game of 162 in sports’ longest season, even the first one. “Too many games, too hard a grind, to beat yourself up over one game,” as manager Mike Redmond said.

But it also is true that Opening Day is the symbolic fresh start you particularly want to get right — especially if you carry the high hopes this Miami team does.

Other sports cannot deliver this. Only the beginning of baseball season feels special, like a national holiday, like a slice of Americana that merits the red, white and blue bunting riffling in the breeze. And whatever national buzz surrounds this team, however high fan optimism is, Marlins players embrace it.

“We can score a lot of ways, guys hitting home runs, stealing bases, moving runners over,” said left fielder Christian Yelich, who recently signed a $49.5 million contract extension but still looks like the teenager coming to the door to pick up your daughter for the prom. “We’re solid all the way around.”

A few lockers away, pitching ace Jose Fernandez, who should be back from Tommy John surgery by summer, was saying, “We have a chance to make Miami happy and do something really special.”

One loss, even on Opening Day, cannot dent that feeling.

For the Marlins, there will be many victories ahead. Also, we presume, drier fields, better weather reports and a retractable roof that begins its slow slide a bit sooner.

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