Jeter talks to the media during spring training
This was ceremonial Day 1 of the Marlins’ complete franchise reinvention as the first full day of spring training unfurled here Monday two hours north of downtown Miami.
This was the other side of the ugly. What’s left of the Marlins, post-fire sale, is a clubhouse full of understanding why the reboot had to happen. A clubhouse buying in.
I excoriated new boss Derek Jeter in a recent column for betraying the public trust with the fire sale that dumped the salaries of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon in exchange for mostly prospects. But I do give the new ownership group this much credit: It has what Jeffrey Loria never did.
It is a plan demanding a leap of faith. It is one that will see lots of losing in the meantime as a club reboots and grows from the bottom up. It is one with no guarantees. But it is a plan, at least.
“Saying that all [Marlins] fans are upset couldn’t be further from the truth,” Jeter proclaimed Monday as his full squad filled the clubhouse and took the field for the first time. “That narrative has to start to change.”
Said new majority owner Bruce Sherman: “I understand fans have been disappointed in some of the trades. But we are building something sustainable. Patience, patience ...”
I drove up here Monday to take on one of the biggest challenges of my professional career. I was in search of reasons why Marlins fans might be optimistic as the 2018 season nears.
I found those reasons all over the clubhouse in the attitudes of the players still here. The Marlins have hit the refresh button and what’s left behind is, well, sort of refreshing.
I had my say in that recent column blasting what Jeter has done in a dispiriting offseason that made the Marlins short-term worse.
Here, I give equal time.
“A lot of excitement around here in what’s going on,” said manager Don Mattingly.
This is for Marlins fans who want to believe Mattingly, who see the good in Jeter’s plan and — even after surviving the Loria years — who still have benefit of doubt left to give, and a willingness to give it.
Lewis Brinson, 23-year-old center fielder, arrived among four minor-leaguers in the Yelich deal. He was the Brewers’ No. 1 prospect. He played at Coral Springs High. The Marlins were “the team I grew up loving.” Sunday he visited two of the Stoneman Douglas High students who were shot but survived last week’s horrific mass shooting that killed 17.
“I had friends who went to Douglas. I was glad to put a smile on those kids’ faces,” Brinson said. “Being so close to home, it was the least I could do. They had battle scars from being in high school. That has to stop. The stuff they’ve been through, 15-, 16-year-olds shouldn’t have to go through.”
Brinson will be at the forefront of a community outreach that will find the new-look Marlins closer to fans and to South Florida than Loria’s teams ever were.
Brinson also might just be the Marlins’ next star, maybe the emerging face of the franchise.
Outfielder Monte Harrison, 22, also arrived in the Yelich trade. He spoke of meeting Jeter for the first time.
“Seems like a chill dude,” Harrison said. “Taller than I thought he’d be. He’s the Captain, man. He said, ‘Hi Monte.’ I couldn’t believe he knew my name!”
First baseman Justin Bour, one of the veterans still here, hit 25 homers in only 108 games last season.
“It’s not like a crazy thing that happened out of nowhere,” he called the team’s makeover. “We read all the stuff being said. We use it as motivation. We’re all major-league players.”
Veteran third baseman Martin Prado, very much a team leader now, seemed genuinely upbeat.
“Fresh environment. It’s all good,” he said. “I don’t see this in a negative way. You’ve got to move on. In two or three years, who knows? Maybe there is a future hall of famer in here and someday I will say, ‘I played with that kid when he was a rookie.’”
Returning shortstop Miguel Rojas, a .290 hitter: “We’re building something. It’s something we needed to do.”
The Marlins have lost their star power. They have little proven starting pitching beyond Jose Urena and Dan Straily. Their makeover emphasizing a ground-up replenishing of the farm system was sudden, and jarring. Many fans are upset.
All of that is true. But so is this:
Derek Jeter is convinced that something necessary is underway, that something special has begun.
Gradually, by degrees, we will see if he’s right.