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14th home opener for Marlins, and still no new ballpark

Guest markotsay7

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Guest markotsay7



MIAMI (AP) - The Florida Marlins' home opener Tuesday will feature a brass band, a flyover by fighter jets and a parade of rookies to the plate.


It'll be a mix of pomp and dire circumstances.


"This was going to be the year we were going to open the new stadium,'' team president David Samson says. "So opening day I'm projecting sadness for myself, because it was going to be in a new stadium.''


The occasion also figures to be poignant for Florida fans - and yes, there are some still, although they're dwindling in number.


With the team coming off its second winter clearance sale in eight years, there may be six rookies in the lineup for the Marlins, who started the season 1-4 playing on the road last week. Ticket sales are the worst in the 14-year history of the franchise, and attendance might fall shy of 30,000 for the first home game against San Diego.


As Samson and owner Jeffrey Loria court San Antonio and other possible relocation sites, fans can only wonder how many more openers there will be in Miami. Offseason speculation about the Marlins focused not on whether they'll make the playoffs - no one expects that - but on whether the franchise has a future in Florida.


"The front of the uniform is what we're trying to save here,'' Samson says.


Three successive team owners have tried to swing a stadium deal and failed. Shortly after Loria bought the Marlins in 2002, he and Samson talked of moving into a new ballpark in 2006, and at one point they appeared close to a deal with Miami-Dade County for a stadium adjacent to the Orange Bowl.


But now, 15 years after South Florida was awarded a baseball franchise, prospects for building a new ballpark have never been so bleak.


"I can't believe it hasn't happened yet,'' says New York Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield, who played for Florida from 1993 to 1998. "It's a shame and it's disappointing. I don't know what the problem is.''


Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga offered Loria land last winter for a ballpark next to Dolphin Stadium, the Marlins' home since their first game, but those talks collapsed. Negotiations with the county also fizzled, with financing the insurmountable hurdle in both cases. Last November, Loria received permission from the commissioner's office to investigate relocation.


Baltimore Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine, who lives in South Florida and played on the Marlins' two World Series championship teams, fears they may move.


"Every week you read something - a glimmer of hope that they're going to get something done and they'll stay in South Florida, and the next week you read something and think, `OK, maybe I'll watch them on cable from San Antonio or Las Vegas or wherever,''' he says. "I hope not. I've got two young boys I'd like to take to a ballgame when I retire. Hopefully the Marlins will be an option.''


The team that takes the field Tuesday will bear scant resemblance to the one that delivered Florida's third consecutive winning season in 2005. The payroll has been pared 73 percent from a year ago to $15 million, lowest in the major leagues by $20 million. The Yankees' payroll is 13 times larger, and five of their players each make more than Florida's entire roster.


Yankees manager Joe Torre sympathizes with the Marlins and his protege, new Florida manager Joe Girardi.


"It's a tough situation,'' Torre says. "Obviously our situation is different. Everywhere we go, the stadium is filled. ... The reality of it has to be hard for them.''


In 2005, the Marlins finished last in the NL in home attendance at 22,872 fans per game. That figure could be cut in half this year in the wake of the roster dismantling.


"The fans want to see a good product,'' Girardi says. "This is a young organization - it hasn't been around 50 years like others. It's going to take time for the Miami area to build up a huge fan base.''


For the Miami area, however, time may be running out.

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