The new-look, Derek Jeter-era Miami Marlins are going to do everything they possibly can to help you forget that the product on the field isn’t very good — to help you maybe enjoy the ballpark experience despite the, you know … the team.
That seemed clear Thursday as the Marlins opened their 26th franchise season with an 8-4 matinee loss to the Chicago Cubs, whose loyal legion of fans turned Marlins Park into Wrigley Field South, the “Let’s go Cubbies!” chanters fattening the crowd to a near-capacity 32,151.
Jeter, the new CEO/frontman, and new principle owner Bruce Sherman have gutted the team and payroll in a trading spree rather than spend to keep their best players and add pitching. What’s left is expected to be the worst team in baseball. The new marketing theme is “Just Gettin’ Started.” It should be “Just Startin’ Over.”
Quick sidenote: Giancarlo Stanton hit a 2-run home run Thursday on his first swing as a New York Yankee, on top of his 59-homer MVP season last year. Not good enough for Miami to keep, alas.
The Fire-Sale Fish showed some feistiness on Opening Day, give them that. Marlins starter José Ureña brought a shovel to the mound to bury his team in a 3-0 first inning hole, giving up a leadoff home run, walking one and hitting three batters (tying an MLB record) in a show of absolute dreadfulness. Yet the Marlins scrapped back to tie it 4-4 before faltering.
They have a chance to be lovable losers, these Marlins. That’s the upside. There is not the quality or depth of starting pitching for Miami to do much better than maybe avoid losing 100 games.
That’s why the descriptions of the team in generic, intangible terms already have begun.
“We’re going to have an energetic club,” noted left fielder Derek Dietrich in the postgame clubhouse.
Said manager Don Mattingly as his third season here set sail: “We’re going to play. I don’t see us backing away from anybody.”
The losses may pile up but oh the whole ballpark experience is wrapped in such fun! The constant loud, upbeat music! The between-innings entertainment! The dancers!
“Best Party In Baseball!” proclaims a sign in the main concourse.
The club trotted out the ubiquitous DJ Khaled for a pregame show.
They introduced a Heat-style dance troupe for between-innings gyrations.
Dancers on the concourse, too. And a roaming brass-and-drums band!
There’s a hostess in an orange dress on the Jumbotron touting all the fun stuff you can do at the park not involving the burden of actually watching a game.
Noise meters and musical bedlam between innings. Never a dull (or quiet) moment.
They introduced a new “fan entertainment zone” in the West Plaza, too.
Yes and there are now towering images of the players adorning stadium columns and pillars.
Window dressing, of course — all of it.
Imagine the Brobdingnagian image of Stanton towering on one of those pillars. If only.
Now see the reality: The new right fielder on the pillar is a person named Garrett Cooper. Or is it Cooper Garrett?
Who’s who has become who’s that.
About half of the Marlins roster (12 of 25 players) were experiencing their first major-league Opening Day on Thursday.
I saw one fan wearing a Marlins No. 17 jersey, except where a name would have been was the word TRADED. Perfect.
I noticed Jeter did not avail himself to be introduced to the crowd in pregame ceremonies Thursday. I think I know why. The Captain is not accustomed to being booed. Then again, he has never before been the Captain of a ship sinking by his own hand.
The Marlins are throwing bells and whistles at you, because that’s cheaper than the cost of spending for a quality team, and putting baseball first, ahead of profit margin. Jeter and Sherman have put a colorful mobile over a baby’s crib. A distraction. Stuff to divert the mind and eye from the field, where what is expected to be the worst team in the majors will be playing the next six lonnnng months.
There is nothing wrong with a fun ballpark experience, as long as it augments a quality product, rather than try to sub for the lack of one.
I think the idea is that a 9-year-old in a Marlins cap might leave the ballpark after a game stuffed with food and sensory overload and wanting to come back after having been so sufficiently distracted to not even be sure who won. So he asks.
“Oh, it doesn’t really matter,” says the Dad. “As long as you had fun.”
Let’s see how that plays out over the long haul, though, as the losses stack up and fans start to see the bells and whistles as a transparent disguise, and remember that the best and truest kind of fun at the ballpark starts with a winning team. Or at least the promise of one.