Greg Cote

Marlins' 25th Anniversary Weekend underlines Derek Jeter's obligation to heal deep wounds

Charlie Johnson takes a selfie with former Marlins players in the dugout as the Miami Marlins prepare to host the San Diego Padres at Marlins Park on Saturday, June 9, 2018.
Charlie Johnson takes a selfie with former Marlins players in the dugout as the Miami Marlins prepare to host the San Diego Padres at Marlins Park on Saturday, June 9, 2018. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The timing isn't ideal, no, as the Marlins celebrate their 25th Anniversary Weekend following another offseason fire sale that has the club unsurprisingly in the midst of a start-over season wrought by lousy crowds and on pace to top 100 losses.

It's sort of like a neighborhood block party being hosted by a dysfunctional family in a house on fire.

Then again the anniversary is perfectly timed in another way, coming just as Derek Jeter is digging into his first year as the new owner-out-front. It is a reminder that what modest legacy this franchise does have must be grown. It is a reminder of Jeter's obligation and responsibility. Marlins fans are a hidden, dormant army waiting to be engaged. This is a repeatedly let-down fandom waiting to be healed and feel their faith restored.

This is Jeter's job now. Michael Jordan was the all-time great superstar who could never equal that mojo in a suit, as an executive and team owner. Will Jeter?

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Former Marlins Alex Fernandez and Charlie Johnson greet Marlins CEO, Derek Jeter as the Miami Marlins prepare to host the San Diego Padres at Marlins Park on Saturday, June 9, 2018. Al Diaz adiaz@miamihierald.com

Twenty-five years is a blip in baseball, our oldest sport.

Only two of 30 MLB teams have been around less time than Miami.

Twenty-five years is not nothing, though. It is enough time to see generations of kids grow up Marlins fans, or with the chance to be. It is enough time for roots to grow strong, with enough water and sun.

Charlie Hough, Hialeah High Class of '65, took the mound for Saturday night's ceremonial first pitch. He is 70 now. The uniforms are vintage teal again this weekend. ("Good-looking unis," noted manager Don Mattingly). They are the Florida Marlins again, just like they were that day in April 1993 when Hough, baseball-old even then, sent the fluttering knuckleball that christened a franchise.

The Marlins' new marketing slogan is "Just Gettin' Started."

Nope. They were just gettin' started that day Hough's knuckler came crazy as a dragonfly for a called first strike into the mitt of catcher Benito Santiago, just as it did again Saturday.

On that very first Marlins Opening Day, Jeter, turning 44 later this month, was 18 and playing for the Single-A Greensboro Hornets, his first Yankees call-up still two years away.

No, 25 years is not nothing.

The Marlins' tradition is thin, those 1997 and 2003 World Series title outliers, aberrations. Miami hasn't made the playoffs since '03, or had a winning season since 2009.

But the old Marlins came out in force. Twenty-two in addition to Hough and Santiago were introduced and took the field pregame, including old favorites Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre, Charles Johnson, Edgar Renteria, Cliff Floyd, Orestes Destrade, Livan Hernandez, Alex Gonzalez, Preston Wilson and Alex Fernandez. Would like to have seen Luis Castillo and Dontrelle Willis. Jeff Conine taped a video greeting.

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Former Marlins Orestes Destrade, at left, greets staff on the field as Alex Fernandez meets up with the Padres Eric Hosmer (30) as the Miami Marlins prepare to host the San Diego Padres at Marlins Park on Saturday, June 9, 2018. Al Diaz adiaz@miamihierald.com

These were guys that fans cared about, a connection fans are longing for again. There will be an alumni softball game before Sunday's game, and then the former players will disappear, along with this weekend's time warp and old teal.

It will be 2018 again. Then what?

Jeter's rebuild is happening by degrees, easier to envision than to see.

But the reasons for encouragement are real.

The Marlins' first draft, under the aegis of a beefed-up scouting department led by former Yankees personnel guru Gary Denbo, produced 41 new prospects this week who include 25 pitchers -- 22 of them from the college level.

No. 1 pick Connor Scott, a prep outfielder from Tampa, is 18. Looks like he's had no need to introduce himself to an electric razor yet. He has the lean lank that reminds you of departed Christian Yelich. They think he has the talent, too.

The Marlins' farm system is now better and deeper than it has been in years. Sandy Alcantara, 6-5 righty with a high-90s fastball, is electrifying in Triple-A and poised for his Marlins callup. I like that the club has had the patience to not hurry that.

The young talent already here is not nothing.

Right fielder/third baseman Brian Anderson, 25, is batting .304 (.331 since April 20) and leads all MLB rookies in hits and is drawing rookie-of-the-year attention.

Pitcher Caleb Smith, 26, who pitched a gem in Friday night's win, is 5-6 with a 3.70 ERA and his 79 strikeouts lead all MLB rookies.

Center fielder Lewis Brinson still is struggling at .167, but he's still only 23 and on pace to hit 23 homers. Don't quit on him.

J.T. Realmuto, at 27, is one of the best catchers in baseball and hugely coveted in the trade market. Keeping him to build around would be a litmus test of the Jeter regime's commitment to winning.

Behind the scenes, the Marlins hired away the Golden State Warriors' chief of marketing, along with top executives from Google and Amazon. There are people in place who know how to sell a product.

Jeter must make it one worth selling.

The imperative: To develop home-grown talent that flourishes into stardom, and to keep those players long-term. To finally break the killing fire-sale cycle of trading away stars just as they get pricey.

There is an opening here. Look around. The Heat seem as far from the champion Warriors as the Dolphins are from a Super Bowl. The Panthers may be closer to hockey contention, but fewer of us care. David Beckham's soccer team is still a figment. It isn't so far-fetched to think the Marlins could be our next professional team to be really good and excite South Florida.

The Marlins figure to get steadily better, but it may take three or four years for that to translate into Julys and Augusts that matter again. That is the plan, anyway. At least there is one.

"You can't snap your fingers and turn around something that's been broken," says Jeter. "We will fix it."

For the Marlins and fans it's been a weekend to celebrate the past, and to wonder how fast the future might arrive.

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