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Conine enjoys life as defending champ that was mis

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Conine enjoys life as defending champ that was missed after ?97


By Juan C. Rodriguez

Staff Writer

Posted March 18 2004


FORT MYERS ? Fans approached Jeff Conine during the offseason just like they did in 1997 after the Marlins won their first World Series. The difference was the subject matter.


"Basically, they'd run into you and ask, `Where are you going? Where's this guy going?'" said Conine, part of the mass trade-off that gutted the 1997 champion Marlins. "Just voicing their displeasure over the whole situation. I've heard none of that this time."


Denied the opportunity to bask in the 1997 afterglow, Conine could not escape the 2003 post-World Series luminescence. He received standing ovations at restaurants. He was grand marshal of a parade, an honorary race chairman at Homestead.


Three weeks after the 1997 Series, Conine received his most noteworthy offseason distinction: new member of the Kansas City Royals.


"Much different this time around, not only personally, because I'm still with the team, but from a fan's perspective as well," Conine said. "I think they had such a bitter taste in their mouths because the team got broken up so quickly after the World Series. Even though I lived here, I didn't see any excitement or craziness like I did this offseason. It shows you people are still excited."


A Fort Lauderdale resident, Conine contributed to that excitement, due in part to a trading deadline deal that brought him back home. He boarded a charter flight in Seattle with the Orioles last Aug. 31, and by the time it landed in Baltimore he was a Marlin again.


The Marlins, Orioles and Conine's agent, Michael Watkins, worked right up to the midnight deadline to consummate the trade. Had Conine not been acquired before then, he wouldn't have been eligible for postseason play.


To make the transaction work, Conine restructured the deal he signed with the Orioles, which included a team option in 2005. The Marlins guaranteed it for $3 million, $1.75 million less than he would have earned had the Orioles exercised it.


"There was some negotiating to do," said Conine. "It wasn't an immediate slam-dunk because we had to rework the last year of my deal. Any time you get to play at home, that's better than anywhere you could be. To be able to come back home and have a chance to win, that was a big deciding factor."


The Orioles' charter turned into Conine's farewell flight. The deal was done two hours before touchdown, affording Conine time for good-byes.


Conine, 37, spent the previous four-plus seasons in Baltimore, where he became a fan favorite and popular teammate.


"From the first day I ever met him, with a lot of us young guys, he doesn't care that he had 12 years in the big leagues," Orioles infielder Brian Roberts said. "I know I saved a lot of money. He could probably claim me on taxes for being a dependent. He took us out to dinner. I've stayed at his house. When it comes to baseball, he's always so positive. My first year I made a lot of mistakes, and he was always there [to say], `Don't worry about it. It's going to happen.'"


The Marlins' everyday left fielder for the season's final month and in the postseason, Conine made plenty happen with his defense. He threw out J.T. Snow trying to score from second to clinch the National League Division Series against the Giants. He also made several stellar catches against the Phillies during the wild-card race, despite having mostly played first base in 2003 before the trade.


Though the Marlins had the option of moving Conine to first this season, they acquired Hee Seop Choi instead, leaving the 12-year veteran to play left.


"Up until last year [in Baltimore,] I was a guy that played a different spot almost every night," Conine said. "I got to play a lot in the outfield, and that kept me polished out there and ready to play consistently like I did when I came down here. To make great plays you have to have opportunities. It seemed like I had so many opportunities in that month and a half.


"I was only here for the better part of two months and it seemed like I was here the whole year. They welcomed me, and I got along great with everyone. We played with such a sense of team and almost family. It was really a unique situation you don't find too often."


One Conine hopes to help duplicate.


Juan C. Rodriguez can be reached at [email protected].



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