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Loria is as optimistic as ever

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MIAMI ? Jeffrey Loria stood in the bright, South Florida sunshine on a spectacularly perfect afternoon for baseball and proclaimed, "What a glorious day!"


Behind him, his Florida Marlins were taking batting practice. In front of him, the Opening Day crowd of 57,405 was pouring into the stadium. All around him, media types were asking about his hopes for the new season and the health of the game and, especially, the chances that the Florida Legislature will approve the tax dollars needed to help build the Marlins a new ballpark.


And the most successful owner in franchise history sounded as upbeat and optimistic as ever.


He likes this team. He's excited about this season. He feels good about the future of the franchise.


"Look at all those kids," Loria said, pointing to the rows of young fans gathered above the home team's dugout. "That's what this is all about."


But will there be a baseball team in South Florida for "all those kids" to root for when they're old enough to buy their own tickets?


We still don't know.


"I'm very encouraged," Loria said.


Certainly, he has held up his end of the bargain.


He has spent money to get the players his front-office folks said they needed. He has put a playoff-caliber team on the field. He has given Marlins fans a reason to come back to the ballpark, to care about baseball, to believe their team can win.


He has kept his promise.


"Three years ago, I made a commitment to try to turn this franchise around," Loria said. "We've brought in some exciting players. We've got a management team that's nothing short of superb. ... We've been able to convince everybody in our community that we're serious about baseball."


Until Loria's arrival in South Florida in 2002, the Marlins had posted only one winning season ? when Wayne Huizenga bought the 1997 World Series, then dismantled the team's high-priced roster before the championship flag was raised.


Huizenga's shameful salary dump effectively killed baseball in South Florida.


Players were stunned. Fans felt betrayed. The stadium became a ghost town.


It wasn't until Loria's Marlins produced a September to remember in 2003 that the fans, curious about what was happening on the baseball side of town, began to come back. Then came that magical October. And the playoffs. And, finally, that unforgettable night at Yankee Stadium, where a wonderfully embraceable team made us believe in miracles.


Last season, the Marlins chased the National League wild card into the season's final month, only to fall short at 83-79. But for the first time in the franchise's 12-year history, they had put together successive winning seasons.


And as they began their 13th season Tuesday with a rousing, 9-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves ? the reigning NL East champions ? the Marlins were considered strong contenders to get back to the playoffs.


The franchise's future appears to be as bright as that South Florida sunshine.


But what happens if the state doesn't come across with the $60 million the Marlins need for their new ballpark? Huizenga, who owns Dolphins Stadium, wants them out by 2010.


"I'm confident the Legislature will do whatever's necessary to ensure that major league baseball remains in South Florida for years to come," Loria said.


And if it doesn't?


Does Loria look to move to another city?


Even if the Marlins get their new digs, the team's long-term future might be murky because plans call for the ballpark to be built near the Orange Bowl. That's a long way ? and a tough drive ? for the growing number of ticket-buying fans in Palm Beach County.


What if they build it and nobody comes?


Loria didn't want to address the ballpark issues. Not on this day. Not on Opening Day.


"Can you think of anything better than being in a ballpark on a day like this?" he asked.


It depends, perhaps, on where that ballpark is.



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