COMMENTARY – Something tells me the 2017 Miami Marlins are going to be just fine. I say that as pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Florida today for the first day of Spring Training, where baseball is officially open for business and all 30 teams in the majors are on an even playing field.
The haves and have nots can separate themselves once April rolls around.
This should be a defining season for the boys in south Florida. A franchise still reeling from the death of their top star – Jose Fernandez – along with a revamped pitching staff, a core of plyers still on the 25-man roster and a farm system that has some thinning layers to it. It all adds up to a Hollywood-style movie, hopefully with a show stopping ending.
There are no mantras. There are no flashy videos for the sake of hype. Bat must meet ball. Fastballs must reach home plate. New faces must meet holdovers and of course, managers must manage. Don Mattingly has his biggest challenge of his post-playing days ahead of him. And if that wasn’t enough, it looks like the sale of this franchise could be finalized after the All-Star game. Only in south Florida, I guess. It could be a lot worse. It’s baseball and after a three-month hiatus, it’s back and better than ever.
It could be worse, actually. It is still snowing in some parts of the country. This is sunny Florida where it has been a mild winter and soon, fans will be complaining of heat and humidity. Hopefully, they won’t be complaining about the state of play for the teal, orange and white.
Mattingly showed how keen he is to his team and the sense of where this organization needs to be. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote a piece on Monday about how the Marlins’ skipper took a page from former Marlins’ manager Jim Leyland’s book of preparation. He said Mattingly used a message Leyland wrote in 1988 and sent it to each of his players on the eve of their marching orders to Jupiter.
The message was delivered in a letter originally penned by then-Pirates and former Marlins manager Jim Leyland 29 years ago. Mattingly sent it to every member of the Marlins organization, as MLB Network’s Peter Gammons reported last week.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we are about to emerge as a contender,” the letter said, among many other things.
It’s that kind of thought that has be a believer. I’m sure fans want a winner, but this could be the year they get a winner.
“I actually didn’t tell Jim I did this. Hope he didn’t care. It was about little things and the details and talked about a lot of stuff. It fit our club perfectly. We’re a young club. We kind of made a little bit of a stride last year. We feel we have the ability to get to the next level.”
I read the piece thinking this is a head coach about to embark on a new course. While baseball is about numbers and standings and Americana, it still resonates with every other sport where winning matters and second best is just that – a runner up. There are worse things to do than to quote Leyland, who is regarded as one of the best managers of my generation.
If Mattingly can bring this team around, avoid major injuries and mold a pitching staff with Juan Nieves, the team’s pitching coach. If he can watch his lineup improve its on-base numbers and new hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo can improve the team’s average, this ball club will surprise people and teams.
To steal a comment from an NFL owner who is tired of his franchise losing year after year – “Why not the Marlins?”
Baseball’s charm is the underdog story and the powerhouse teams that remain in the hunt on the yearly. Picked third last season, Miami did just that, finishing 79-82 and ever so close to making the world card round of the playoffs. The prologue has already been written. The theme already created for dramatic purposed by pundits and online bloggers. Now, Mattingly and his troops must come out and write the ending. Whether it is worthy of a Pulitzer remains to be seen. But it’s a story well deserving of a good read.
The Marlins and baseball are back. Spring is in the air. Thoughts of a World Series in south Florida in late October are already being dreamt by boys who want to be Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and others. This could be the magical season we have all waited for. But first, everything must play itself out.
Dreams aren’t conceived in a day, they are created over 162 games.