Greg Cote

Greg Cote: All-Star Game acquisition is further proof Jeffrey Loria deserves reset from Marlins fans

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria looks on as outfielder Giancarlo Stanton signs a 13-year, $325 million contract Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria looks on as outfielder Giancarlo Stanton signs a 13-year, $325 million contract Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. El Nuevo Herald

There remains a hard core of haters who may be anti-Marlins as long as Jeffrey Loria owns the club. That group may be louder than it is large, but it exists. For some fans there is no softening cement once it hardens. I still recall Wayne Huizenga being booed at the stadium retirement party he threw for Dan Marino in 2000 – booed so loudly an embarrassed Marino scolded the crowd. Why the vitriol? Because three years earlier Huizenga’s fire sale broke up the ’97 World Series champion Marlins.

For some, forgiving is hard and forgetting even harder.

Loria, whose persona can be off-putting, built up mistrust and ill will with years of cheap payrolls and decisions motivated by cost-cutting. Others resent the favorable deal he struck with Miami-Dade County to get the new ballpark built. (As a quick aside, the penuriousness is on Loria, and he has not had a bigger critic on that than me, but any lingering animus over the stadium deal continues misplaced. A smart businessman strikes the best deal he can; it’s the politicians who are paid to protect the taxpayers’ interests).

In any case as the 2015 baseball season draws near it may be time the grudge-holders hit the reset button on Loria and give his ownership a fresh look with new eyes. They’d see what the rest of us do:

The Marlins are in solid shape and headed right.

There is a tailwind of optimism, excitement and momentum one week from the start of spring training.

Mirroring that is Friday’s official announcement that Miami will host the 2017 All-Star Game, a news conference new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred will attend. The historic honor is a direct result of Marlins Park, which opened maligned in 2012 but is the foundation of what’s right moving forward.

There is a buzz about the club that is refreshing.

This is what the main stage feels like.

With the Heat struggling post-LeBron and the Dolphins and football Hurricanes both mired in a malaise, there is a window that has banged wide open, and the Marlins are taking advantage.

The All-Star Game announcement bookends an active, smartly aggressive offseason that began with the club re-signing cornerstone slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a record 13-year, $325 million contract extension. That wasn’t unexpected; it was flat-out stunning. The deal was constructed brilliantly from the Marlins’ end, deftly back-loaded. Stanton may opt out after six more seasons, but even if so, it means Miami will have the heart of his career’s prime at a (relatively) modest cost.

The club is building wisely this time, getting better with fiscal responsibility to avoid another fan-disillusioning teardown.

That wasn’t the case in 2012. With the Heat reigning and LeBron Mania at full throttle down here then, the Marlins wildly misspent to put a splashy, big-name team in its new ballpark, led by boisterous manager Ozzie Guillen, whose high-volume bravado makes Rex Ryan seem a wallflower.

That team lost big. Guillen complimented Fidel Castro. The fire sale dismantling of the roster didn’t even wait for the season to end. More fan outrage found Loria. It was a nightmare.

Three years later, shafts of sunshine spear through parting clouds.

The Marlins have the acknowledged best outfield in baseball in Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, plus an exciting fourth outfielder in newly signed Ichiro, the Japanese legend.

A retooled, upgraded infield adds third baseman Martin Prado, second baseman Dee Gordon and first baseman Mike Morse to join shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Gordon could break Juan Pierre’s 2003 club-record 63 stolen bases.

Ace pitcher Jose Fernandez (committed to Miami at least four more seasons) is due back from Tommy John surgery by summer. Meanwhile the team added Mat Latos and Dan Haren to what could be a solid rotation already including Henderson Alvarez. (Much depends on the health of Latos, but what team’s hopes aren’t stitched together with ifs?)

Good-guy manager Mike Redmond’s bullpen figures strong, too, anchored again by Steve Cishek.

Making the playoffs will be another tough climb but the upward-trending Marlins are given a real shot. This should be the club’s first winning season since 2009, with arguably its best lineup since the ’03 champions. Optimism fulfilled will see a leap in attendance, helped by the big-draw Yankees and Red Sox coming to town this year.

With a little luck, this season may prove to be the biggest challenge yet for the past-dwelling anti-Loria folks who stubbornly let old feelings sour their ability to simply enjoy having baseball. It isn’t about “trusting” the owner, or liking him. It’s about not allowing what was to blind you to what is.

The rest of us, unburdened by Loria obsession, may appreciate now the wonderful little gift sports gives us sometimes if we are willing to accept it. It is the present we get to open even before the games begin.

It is called anticipation.

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